Since Imran Khan took office, a section of media, political pundits and the naysayers are claiming his government will be gone any moment. And this time too when his allies are openly distancing from his stance on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s surety bond issue, they are hinting at some trouble for Khan.
Earlier, they also claimed that “unknown forces” were supporting Maulana Fazalur Rahman’s Dharna/March to topple his government. But each time these claims are made, each time they evaporate in a thin year and Imran Government comes out stronger.
These assumptions are rested on a persistent illusion: that the establishment wants to remove Imran Khan’s government. These assumptions are misguided as they are not grounded in the hard realities of realpolitik and compulsions of geo-politics.
Post 9/11 world provided the Pakistani establishment with the opportunity to get rid of the Jihadi mindset, clean up violent extremist groups
The traditional political class just seen in Maulana’s Dharna were on the same page to protect their own interests and worldview about Pakistan and its problems: they want to continue more or less the same patronage-based political governance, the establishment is opposed to; they want to have unchecked political space to ensure monopoly of corrupt dynastic political system; they also want to control main institutions like the ECP, NADRA, NAB and auxiliary institutions to set the rules of the game for entry in political system (i.e, elections) and determine the ceiling of accountability hence ensure blanket immunity, which the establishment is not in favor of. Then they oppose the near checkmate of India through religious diplomacy: Tharparkar corridor and proposed the opening of Hindu Shrine in Neelam Valley for Hindu devotees. Again the establishment fully endorses these initiatives of the Imran government.
A better approach for them should have been to reduce the risk of confrontation with the establishment and prove their credentials that they are aware of the new challenges the country is facing: implications of merger of geo-politics with geo-economics on domestic security, politics and economy, the surveillance capitalism and its employment in opinion twisting and voting behavioral manipulation with the objective to alter political outcomes and other various issues the country is grappling with.
It was also a misguided approach to imagine by these political parties to force the establishment to abandon the state’s larger interests for their petty political interests. The relations of the establishment with any political government can fall into two categories: either competitive or resilient. With the PTI government, the establishment seems to have developed a robust relationship bordering around a creative tension some times depending on the issues both power centers have to convince each other and take along with on their respective domains. It is not based on zero-sum relations. If any claim can be made about the level of civil-military harmony, it is for the first time that this GHQ is submissive to the PM Secretariat—the rest are just assumptions based on bias, personal moods and notions of these sections.
Imran Khan is the only politician among the other lot who understands the compulsions and constraints, the establishment is facing in undertaking its task in Foreign policy’s deterrence, strategic and defense arenas: e.g, the latest security-cum economic challenge was the FATF.
His leverage over the establishment comes from his integrity; his brand status, personal chemistry from MBS to President Trump to his wife to Mahatir Mohammad; his fanatic oratory skills and above all his relative support in every section of the society including in the Army. No politician of the current lot command qualities and leverages of such magnitudes. The fear among his rivals is well-founded if he succeeds to turn the four corners of the economy in the next couple of years, he will raise Pakistan’s status to President Erdogan, Mahathir Mohammad, and ex-Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Thus they want to get rid of him at all costs.
All opposition is opposing Kartarpur to blackmail Imran Khan and the establishment for instance; allow political stability in Pakistan to help the country catch up on positive economic trajectory
A more restrained competition strategy for the opposition towards Imran Khan’s government would have been the best course of action as no establishment would want to see an end to the opposition pressure on any incumbent government in the interest of delivery.
Bad governance, after the people, affects the establishment more than any other segment: whether compensation and development in post-counter-terrorism operations areas; or the vulnerability and recruitment of unemployed youth falling into the hands of hostile agencies for terrorism and radical forces for spreading chaos and extremism.
Post 9/11 world provided the Pakistani establishment with the opportunity to get rid of the Jihadi mindset, clean up violent extremist groups and now they want good governance for the deprived and susceptible communities so as to retain the hard-earned gains in the security domain. Religious diplomacy and relaxing country’s visa regime for tourism is part of the new mindset to open the country to the outside world, make it economically sustainable and improve its soft power. In a nutshell, with the exception to ordinary people, no segment affects more issues of strategic and economic importance to Pakistan then the establishment. And no other institution in the country, it must be said, is capable of countering these challenges.
As the political parties are seeking to drag the establishment into politics to undermine Imran Khan government for them and make its behavior moderate to their omissions and commissions, they need to modify their near-term objectives as well: stop opposing goals on foreign policy, strategic and India policies—all opposition is opposing Kartarpur to blackmail Imran Khan and the establishment for instance; allow political stability in Pakistan to help the country catch up on positive economic trajectory; keep the country’s interests on above pedestals; to submit to political reforms necessary to make the system inclusive; address the youth bulge; and understand the long-term challenges of the country, including the looming threat of water scarcity and demographics.
Their premise that the establishment will sit quite—like any liberal establishment in other parts of the world—and let the country’s institutions fall prey to rapacious political monarchies and regional barons, ruthless cliques compete, often violently, to carve up the state’s assets and political chaos spread, is plainly wrong.
These political forces and their supporters need to understand that there have been very few exemplary democratic traditions to draw from and only a shaky sense of political but corrupt community on which to base a well-functioning democracy. So far their narrative in support of procedural democracy has failed to deliver to all stakeholders. And for now, they have to contend with political “align” Imran Khan and reduce confrontation with, and scale back malignant campaign against the establishment—and enjoy the new dawn of robust civil-military ties.
After all, waiting to capitalize on real or imagined fault-lines in civil-establishment relations is not a sensible strategy to carve out space as a viable alternative to Imran Khan in the next elections—a suggestion they must ponder upon.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan). The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.