How Pakistani ‘Deep State’ Is Failing to Crush Sharif & Democracy
A rigged political discourse & denying Sharif an electoral victory has led to anti-establishment sentiments.
The political crisis in Pakistan has finally exploded. The long march of Maulana Fazal-Ur Rehman, backed by the joint opposition, is pulling massive crowds, This march, to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, has entered the province of Punjab that is being considered the political fort of Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Sharif is ailing in hospital and fighting for his life, after being found critically ill while in the custody of National Accountability Bureau.
Sharif’s illness seems to be the final nail in the coffin of the invisible forces and the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, as it has completely changed the political scenario in the country.
At the moment, it’s not only that the establishment and the PTI government have to face the massive protest movement, but their biggest challenge is to somehow send Sharif abroad, so that in case something happens to him, both the establishment and the current government can save face by saying that he was being treated abroad.
Why Pakistani Establishment is Counting On Nawaz Sharif’s Well-Being
The rigged political discourse and denying Sharif an electoral victory through the pre-poll and post-poll rigging eventually resulted in the anti-establishment sentiments from the province of Punjab. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz’s defiance and her ability to take on the establishment and the government of Imran Khan single-handedly, not only saved the day for Sharif but helped in building the strong pro-democratic narrative in Punjab province.
The powerful establishment has approached his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif and other family members to convince Sharif and his daughter Maryam to go abroad, but Sharif is not ready to be sent away. This leaves the establishment and Khan’s government with no option but to leave their fate to Sharif’s well-being. While Fazal’s protest may not change the status quo, he has already achieved the desired results. His pressure has created a space for him and other opposition members to come back to the power chessboard.
Neither Sharif’s Own Party Nor the Establishment Believed He’d Be Able to Turn the Tide
The establishment in Pakistan designed a doctrine according to which it wished to rule the country indirectly with the help of Imran Khan’s PTI in power, and it wanted to negate all the major political players.
Therefore, questions arise as to what went wrong with the powerful establishment which seemed to be indestructible.
First, the establishment placed the wrong bet on Imran Khan, thinking his popularity with a section of youth to be enough for a smooth journey. Khan was never suited to politics. The second mistake — on the part of the ‘invisible’ forces — was to undermine the ability of Sharif and his daughter Maryam to fight against the odds. When the establishment decided to throw Sharif out of politics, Sharif instead of accepting it as his fate or trying to mend fences with the establishment, decided to fight back. Many, even in Sharif’s own party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), never believed that Sharif will ever be able to turn the tables against the mighty establishment.
No one, including the establishment, had any idea that both Sharif and Maryam would put up such a tough fight.
Will Nawaz Sharif Decide Fate of Pakistani Politics?
Maryam effectively used social media and digital platforms to counter the narrative of the Deep State since mainstream media is mostly muzzled in the country. So right now, the establishment has its fingers crossed, and its shrewd men will be praying that Sharif will bow down to their pressure. Sharif’s exit at this time (with his daughter) will give the establishment breathing space, and it can replace Khan in the future through an in-house change in the Parliament to somehow console the Opposition.
Eventually, the fact remains that it is Sharif, not the establishment, who will decide the fate of Pakistani politics.
Irrespective of what he decides, he, along with his daughter Maryam, has proven a point — that no one, not even the mighty establishment, is invincible. The establishment has ruled this country directly or indirectly through the ‘fear factor’ as it had all the resources and power to dislodge the elected governments, to create political heroes and villains on its own. However, both Sharif and Maryam have proved that if one has the courage to take on the odds, even the establishment cannot throw them out of the power chessboard.
This is the beginning of a new chapter in the political history of Pakistan, and this itself is the huge victory of the pro-democratic forces in the country. Fazal’s long march or the change of faces on the power chessboard don’t matter much as Sharif has already won the ideological battle for democracy.
Ideologies are not dependent on individuals. In the future, his daughter Maryam or someone else will carry the baton of democracy, backed by millions of pro-democracy voters.
(Imad Zafar is a broadcast journalist and columnist who covers politics, human rights, literature. He tweets @rjimad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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