Formally the constitutional term of the present government will come to an end with completion of the term of elected assemblies by the end of May but power has already been shifted from elected to non elected executive far before that. The black out of the entire press conference of the sitting prime minister last week was a proof of this fact if a proof was needed at all. Nawaz Sharif, who led his party into power in the last elections, and his core team, have not only been removed from their government offices through dubious legal processes but they are also at the receiving end of blows after blows of the state coercion camouflaged under manipulated judicial instruments. Media control has gradually expanded to almost entire spectrum of electronic media and print media. A few of the media groups that resisted full control had to face quite a crude type of strong arm tactics. Most of the political parties have also fallen in line not only to avoid persecution by the deep state but also to ensure their share in the power pie in the coming arrangement. Political parties are totally silent on erosion of democratic freedoms in the country. They are hesitant even to issue public statements against curbs on media and illegal interventions of intelligence agencies in university campuses let alone launching any mass movement against such undemocratic practices. How can they expect to have a free and fair elections with the ever expanding shadow of authoritarianism on political horizon? But the scariest thing is their failure to see their own growing irrelevance.
The top brass of the uniformed bureaucracy has not shied away from explaining some aspects of state policies, including foreign policy and economy, under their tutelage, in their informal interactions with political and business leaders in different parts of the country over the last few months. In the aforementioned briefings political government remains mostly non-existent and is only mentioned as a hurdle on the path of good governance if a reference becomes unavoidable to its existence. Interestingly a good part of these briefings is consumed by emphasis on change in state policy towards extremism and terrorism. But these pronouncements are hardly convincing in the face of reality on the ground. With the presence of 139 UN designated terrorist individuals/entities and with the NAP taking a nap who will be impressed by this empty rhetoric? The real question is that in the presence of this super state the emergence of the so called caretaker government in the coming few days will not even be a good joke.
The uniformed bureaucracy, mainly with the help of its intelligence apparatus and NAB, has been able to bring every institution that has a structure, under its full control both in the state and the society. They include the parliament, judiciary, civil bureaucracy, political parties and the mainstream media. The recent Senate election is a good example of this control where some political parties with tall claims of their democratic credentials had to capitulate to the diktats of the deep state. Yet another example is the crude political engineering for herding the so called electable political elements into the new king’s party. Using state power and resources for making one party and breaking the other one is in full swing before the public eye. Judicial activism and accountability drive is focused on certain “targets”. It’s Nawaz Sharif, his family and a close political circle around them. Thousands of off shore companies mentioned in the leaked Panama papers have remained out of the accountability net. General retired Pervez Musharraf is absconding in the high treason case for abrogating the Constitution but the judiciary doesn’t appear to be keen on bringing him back and arraigning him anytime soon before the special tribunal. Even Rao Anwar who is accused of murdering 400 plus people in fake police encounters is getting VIP treatment in court proceedings. He may appear to be a small fry but he has connections in powerful quarters.
Be that as it may, the aforementioned power shift that appears to have made substantial headway is not without its challenges. First, the “unstructured “bodies such as Pashtun Tahafuz Movement ( PTM) and social media have seriously challenged the capacity of the deep state to control. PTM, a grassroots rights movement that originated from FATA has spread to all the major urban centers of the country. It has effectively exposed the contradictions between words and actions of deep state in its strategy of war on terror. Despite the blanket blackout by the mainstream media and a vicious campaign of demonization and harassment carried out against it by the deep state, PTM has been able to convey its message to a large section of the population, particularly the young people of the country. Similarly, the ever expanding role of social media has rendered the media control by deep state to be partially ineffective. Second challenge to the power shift is Nawaz Sharif’s defiance that has surprised political pundits who always thought that it’s impossible for any politician to take on the might of the security establishment. It’s for the first time in history that an experienced and popular political leader from Punjab has challenged the hegemony of uniformed bureaucracy which also happens to be dominated by Punjabi officers. The hullabaloo created about his recent interview is a mere smokescreen for increasing pressure on him to keep his mouth shut. His detractors know that he hasn’t said anything objectionable. But they know that he can say things which can seriously expose the security establishment. He is expected to name names and give specific details after his party is out of the government. As long as he mobilizes the masses he will remain politically relevant whatever the establishment do to hi. The third and a vary serious challenge to hegemonic power of the security establishment is the international isolation of the country on the question of extremism and terrorism. Relationship with the West are bad. The closest and greatest friend China is losing patience over delay in eliminating extremism and terrorism. The recent successful China-India summit and the possibility of India’s inclusion in the Chinese Road and Belt vision indicates the shape of things to come.
There can’t be much hope from the degenerated ruling elites. But mobilization of the masses, the real owner of the country can make a difference. PTM has set an example. Will others follow in their footsteps for pulling the country back from the brink?
By Afrasiab Khattak:
The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.