Failed Experiment

Some people think that the Military Establishment – Miltablishment – has emerged stronger than ever from the recent crisis. They say Imran Khan has been weakened, Nawaz Sharif has “fled” the country like a coward, Maulana Fazalur Rahman’s dharma has flopped, the judiciary has been discredited and the media remains in chains. But there’s another way of reflecting on the current situation.

The big loser is the Miltablishment. It has been stripped off its “sacred cow” status and thoroughly discredited for its blundering political interventions. The first stone was cast by Nawaz Sharif when he alluded to the rigging of the last elections by “Khalai Makhlooq”. Then Maulana Fazal pitched in with his priceless remark about “Nikay da Abba”. By the time his Dharna took place, the Maulana and his lieutenants were openly accusing the Miltablishment by name of “disappearing” people, rigging the elections, selecting the prime minister and manipulating the judges.  Such discrediting is more troubling because it is happening, for the first time, in the Militablishment’s home ground of Punjab. Worse, the PTI that has most benefitted from the military’s interventions is dejected because it suspects that Nawaz Sharif’s exit could not have materialized without the Miltablsihment’s active involvement, leading to speculation of some sort “deal” with the Sharifs at the expense of Imran Khan. Now someone has had the gall to petition, on grounds of religious faith, the Peshawar High Court against the extension to the army chief given by the Prime Minister. Now the Pakistan Bar Association has announced November 28 as a “black day” to protest the army chief’s extension!

This is shocking. Until recently, no one could say a bad word or attribute a selfish motive to the military and its leaders. Indeed, we were compelled to use the term “Establishment” when discussing military matters. Challenging the army chief by name was unthinkable. Now all this is par for the course because the military leadership has started to engineer the political system and manipulate the political parties quite nakedly, the more so since such interventions have been exposed to be shoddy, biased and unworkable. This was bound to happen when all popular stakeholders in the political system are blatantly marginalized and harassed to the point where they have nothing to lose by naming names and shrieking murder.

As far as the Maulana’s dharna is concerned, it is true that he couldn’t extract the PM’s resignation and compel another round of elections. But it can be argued that perhaps that was only his stated objective while the true motive of the dharna was to focus on, and undermine, the Miltablishment leadership that “selected” Khan in the first place and has propped him up since. The logic of this indirect approach is inescapable: by challenging and exposing the Miltablishment, he was buffeting the pillar on which the PTI government stands and deepening the cracks in that unholy alliance. Certainly, the pointed accusations during the dharna, followed by the petition in the Peshawar High Court, would seem to confirm this line of reasoning. Indeed, the timing of the dharna in November may be said to align with the proposed retirement/extension in the tenure of the army chief most directly charged with the political engineering that has aroused the ire of all the other stakeholders. So when the Maulana claims his dharna was successful and he got what he wanted, we can only deduce that it has must have something to do with the Miltablishment which should become clear soon enough.

Nawaz Sharif’s narrative is also alive and kicking. His supporters and voters in the Punjab are relieved that he will live to fight another day. They are a cynical lot, having learnt to shrug off the martyrdoms of the Bhuttos. They rallied around Nawaz when he returned to Pakistan after ten years in exile and they will likely do the same again when he returns or when his heir apparent Maryam steps into the arena.

Imran Khan is the biggest loser. His “same page with the Miltablishment” roar is sounding hollow. His allies are beginning to flap their wings. His words and body language suggest an erosion of trust with the “Selector” and deep anguish about the current situation. He senses a state of siege, and therefore wants to bring back loyalists into the team. Now the NAB chairman has announced his intention to target the PTI to redress the balance. And the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Asif Khosa, has ticked him off for doubting the credentials of the judiciary by letting Nawaz Sharif off the hook.

The Miltablishment’s “experiment” with Imran Khan has come a cropper and its credibility has plunged. Imran Khan is clearly not the man of the hour billed by his supporters. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s popularity has soared (a recent poll shows he would sweep the elections now) while Maulana Fazal has overnight become a leader of substance. It’s only a matter of time before the Miltablishment’s latest experiment is relegated to the dustbin of Pakistani history and we are obliged to start at the beginning all over again.

22 Nov 19/Friday                                                                                 Source: FRIDAYTIMES