The state is on nimble footing. Each passing day is a revelation of the chronicles of history. The ghosts of the past are catching up and making a renaissance of magnanimous proportions. Protectors of the land are the de facto rulers, and representatives of its people are holding a knife to the throat of democracy. In the heating political climate, three major parties sit at the helm of impending anarchy. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is out of the government with a demand for elections, accountability for ‘corruption’ and resistance against alleged foreign conspiracy. The other two players, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), are running a coalition to steer a failing economy with political lines dug deep into the society.
The omnipresent establishment holds a permanent seat at the table with an agenda for the future. Their intentions cannot be judged by actions in a timeframe but a general activity spanning decades: destabilizing internal politics and predicting ‘external threats’. Asif Ali Zardari, master politician from the PPP, orchestrated removal of the previous government through democratic means – a first in the history of Pakistan. His party is the big winner in the political quagmire that engulfs Pakistan. PPP had long been quiet in mainstream politics with a scarce voter base in the important province of Punjab and little chance at the government. Following the alliance with the PML-N and other smaller parties, it gained prominence and more importantly, leverage.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto has been capturing headlines as the young and dynamic foreign affairs minister – a position historically important to a future premier. The other two parties are in peculiar condition. Imran Khan and the cult of personality that follows him is unwilling to back down from what he considers as the ‘greatest threat’ to Pakistan. His party, the PTI, is an amalgamation of the same people Imran Khan criticizes albeit in different uniforms. They are cut from the same cloth but branded differently by the persistent former prime minister. Calling for protests and constant pressure on the country’s government and judiciary seems to be the chosen route to recapturing power.
The sucker punch that Insafians may receive is in the possibility where Imran Khan seizes to attain power by failing to secure a majority in the elections. A rinse and repeat may form where members of the parliament can potentially back their leader into a corner owing to a game of numbers. The Sharif family has cemented its legacy in the politics of blood after appointments of the prime minister and the chief minister in Punjab. PML-N is sitting between a rock and a hard place with every decision holding dire consequences. With the new budget cycle quickly approaching amid great political opposition, the Sharif family will need to pick their poison.
In one circumstance, they can attempt to stabilize a feeble economy and engage with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This would be a dangerous gamble given the limits of their tenure and the public loss of support in a case of failure. A constant enemy in Imran Khan would loom in the shadows and make life for this governmental alliance extremely difficult. In the second circumstance, there can be fresh elections but that would mean succumbing to the demands of the PTI – a bad look for the party’s confidence. A caretaker government would be able to bear the brunt of public scrutiny, but the IMF would not talk to a government lacking mandate.
A third possibility, one that is dark to imagine, is where these three political parties become one. That does not mean the unification of ideologies but a result of a damaged democracy. If there are deep-rooted resentments and polarization of the greatest form, we may see a condition where achieving a majority becomes improbable. New candidates are chosen to take center stage in the masquerade of a new tomorrow for the country. The grand architects would be the same and as the boots go marching on, democracy takes its dying breaths. The reality is that there is no good and bad in Pakistani politics. There are but two illusions: one feigning democracy and the other feigning its protection.