The establishment pivot

Published January 18, 2022

INFORMATION Minister Fawad Chaudhry has claimed that four senior members of the PML-N have met some important people and offered themselves as replacement for the Sharif family. The PML-N has rubbished this claim contemptuously.

The issue may be one more example of mutual mudslinging between political opponents but it has once again brought to the fore the role of the establishment as the centre of gravity for all sorts of power plays. This comes in the wake of a statement by the military spokesman when he denied that the military was involved in any deals with political parties. The spokesman advised journalists that whenever someone mentioned a deal, they should ask him who had offered the deal.

Talk about deals has picked up momentum in recent months ever since reports started circulating that relations had become strained between the PTI government and the establishment as a result of the controversy over the appointment of the DG ISI. No responsible stakeholder has said anything on the record but all have been dropping broad hints that the power matrix may be undergoing a subtle shift.

Such a shift, whenever it happens, invariably involves a reorientation of the establishment’s relationship with various political actors. The history of the last few decades is well-documented in this respect. While it may still be somewhat unclear how this shift is taking place in the present day, if at all, the fact remains that the political tug of war between the government and opposition seems to be reinforcing the dynamics of this traditional matrix.

The government ministers continue to claim unabashedly that they are on the same page with the establishment while the opposition leaders are also saying in no uncertain terms that they will only bring about a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan when they are sure the establishment will not bail him out. This is as much proof as needed that from the perspective of the political stakeholders, their fortunes remain tied to their relationship with the establishment. Perceptions can often start to shape reality and in this case even if the establishment tries to dispel the notion, the perception of the centrality of its role drives the reality of present-day politics just as it has previously. The more things are said to change, the more they remain the same, it seems.

After more than seven decades as an independent nation envisioned as a democracy by its founding father, it is a sad reality that the power matrix continues to revolve around the establishment. Electoral democracy is supposed to legitimise the acquisition of such power and delink it from the support of hard power that flows through the barrel of the gun, but such is our predicament that legitimacy remains subservient to the reality of this hard power. All stakeholders need to indulge in some serious soul-searching.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022

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