Establishment’s role

Published March 10, 2022

EVER SINCE the opposition parties announced their plans of ousting Prime Minister Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence, many have been asking which side the security establishment supports. The answer, they believe, will help them place safe bets on the outcome of the opposition’s no-trust motion.

Given the military’s long-standing sway over Pakistan politics and influence on virtually every political party, including many posturing as anti-establishment outfits, this is not surprising. So far, the PTI leadership has maintained that the ‘security establishment is with Pakistan’, insisting that it stands with the government in these difficult times.

However, the combined opposition contends that the establishment is now neutral, implying that it no longer backs the ruling party for which it allegedly paved the way for electoral success in 2018. Indeed, there is no evidence so far to show that the establishment is behind the opposition’s move against Imran Khan. Yet many have doubts regarding the security establishment’s neutrality in the current crisis.

Read: The politics of no-confidence

Unfortunately, the establishment has a long history of meddling in politics. It has directly ruled the country for three decades. Analysts have pointed out that when not ruling directly, it has pulled strings from behind the scenes to oust elected governments, propped up pressure groups, created divisions in parties to split their vote bank, financed opposition parties to destabilise elected set-ups, etc. in order to maintain its grip on political power. It is widely perceived that politicians have always needed the armed forces’ support to come to power. We have seen politicians occasionally stand up to the military’s dominance and political interference, but there has never been a dearth of civilian leaders willing to do the establishment’s bidding for a share in power.

In recent years, the establishment has expanded its role beyond domestic politics and national security to governance and foreign and economic policies. It is not incorrect to say that its presence can be felt in every sphere — including the media, judiciary and business. Little wonder that the current set-up under Imran Khan, who was allegedly aided by the intelligence agencies in the 2018 polls, is labelled as a ‘hybrid regime’.

The establishment responds forcefully to every civilian effort to limit the military to its constitutional function of defending the nation against foreign aggression by undermining elected governments and distorting democracy. At the same time, the pretence of neutrality and support for democratic dispensations is kept up.

A military spokesman told a presser in January that the army didn’t need to enter the political fray, nor should it be dragged into it, in response to the opposition’s allegations of political meddling. If the military leadership really meant this, here’s a chance to prove its stance and refrain from siding with either the ruling party or the opposition in their democratic fight in the Assembly.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2022

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