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Deal Or No Deal?

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Atif Khan writes about how the failures of the PTI are bringing blame upon the establishment and looks at the possibility of a deal between Nawaz Sharif and the establishment.

The sheer incompetence and clownish attitude of Imran Khan’s government has made the political situation extremely precarious and put the entire system at stake.

Given the deep rooted support for PMl-N in Northern and Central Punjab, establishment had to undertake massive political engineering – from making new alliances, to giving full support to the dharnas of TLP, to the disputed disqualification of Nawaz Sharif- to make PTI win the last election but in that process it exposed itself badly and the thin veneer of sanctity over its institution was badly eroded. As a result, the blame for the failure of PTI is directly placed at military establishment.

The history of Pakistan tells us that the military establishment reengineers the social and political process every ten years on average, except six years after Bhutto’s rule, to remove the aberrations caused by the civilian governments and to set the contours of the system ‘straight’.

History is also witness to the fact that it takes almost an average of ten years for the people of Punjab to feel completely disenfranchised from the military rule and the situation reaches to that level where the sustainability of the martial law regime no longer seems feasible.

Peripheral provinces had always been at odds with the martial law regimes, but the heat at the corridors of power was only felt when discontentment prevailed in Punjab.

In 2018, the establishment changed its tack and rather than directly overthrowing the government, an indirect route was adopted for reengineering.

Although the process of reengineering is taking place with full speed with the inclusion of the army chief in the National Development Council, setting up of military courts, gagging up the dissenting voices within media and society, but the disastrous performance of Imran khan and his government on all important fronts has made it extremely difficult for the establishment to sell this project to the people.

A sense of panic has gripped all the sectors of economy. Relative improvement of PML-N’s years in the social sectors in urban Punjab has completely disappeared in the last one year. Speedy Shahbaz was replaced with his complete opposite, the indolent and impotent Buzdar, and as a result everything seems to have turned upside down. Dengue is back with full force and other indicators show that a serious health crisis is ready to burst out.

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All the economic indicators are presenting a catastrophic picture. Inflation is hitting rock high, manufacturing is on continuous decline, power looms are closing, government’s developmental work has come to a halt, bureaucracy has stopped working, foreign policy is complete fiasco, basic freedoms are under severe restrictions from government and not a single day passes without one or another minister of government becoming a laughing stock.

Although people vent their anger against the PTI government, but they equally put the blame on the establishment. The situation is unsustainable any longer.

History also teaches us that when such a situation arrives, the institution decides to pull its hand from the back of any regime, even if it is led by their chief.

Normally martial law regimes take 10 years to reach such a stage – thanks to the massive foreign aid during all those tenures- but through the incompetence of the PTI, that stage has arrived in a single year.

In our system, the establishment shares power with political parties so that they could provide legitimacy to its permanent rule but the PTI government has badly failed on this. Legitimacy was a serious issue for the government of PTI from the first day, but its utter failure on all social and economic fronts has exacerbated it badly.

When such a situation arises, the establishment looks for someone who could bail the system out. That’s why stories are making rounds that a deal is under discussion between Nawaz Sharif and the establishment. Establishment needs a face that could save the system by diverting wrath of the people from real issues to non-issues.

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In such a scenario, a deal may eventually take place but it will not be on the conditions expected by a majority of the people.

Many people- both on the right and left- are expecting too much from Nawaz Sharif and Maryam and hope that they will not only fight for civilian supremacy but also for true democracy and for the improvement in the living standards of poor people. Time will tell that due to their political amateurism, they were putting their hopes in the wrong place.

All the indicators of the politics of Sharif, even if we consider them since his disqualification in 2017, guide towards the fact that he is doing the same politics which he has espoused all his life, though with slight variations.

During his time in exile in 2000, Nawaz Sharif was very vocal about civilian supremacy, sanctity of parliament and democracy but his last tenure was completely opposite to that. PML-N’s government lasted for one year after Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification but despite his rhetoric of civilian supremacy, the government of PML-N did not take any single step in that direction.

Although many journalists who ally themselves openly with Nawaz Sharif are trying to tell us that this time he is different, but his selection of leaders of his party in the National Assembly and Senate tells a different story.

If a deal is cut between PML-N and the establishment, it might temporarily provide a slight breathing space but without a fundamental transformation of the structure of the political economy, no serious and sustainable change can take place.

Unless common people don’t learn the basics of the political economy of Pakistan, the system will keep on repeating itself and they will suffer forever.

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