THE system is imploding, spectacularly — collapsing under the weight of the multiple distortions created by decades of political engineering, not to mention outright military takeovers.

The unravelling is ugly, and judging by the events that transpired on Thursday at the long march, it could get deadlier still. No one quite seems to know how it will all end. But this much is clear; if chaos and anarchy are to be reined in, new rules of engagement must be drawn up — not only of engagement between the security establishment and the political leadership, but also within the latter.

In other words, another charter of democracy is called for. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto put their signatures to such an agreement in 2007 — an outcome of their realisation that a dog-eat-dog political rivalry only strengthened the hand of unelected forces and left civilian governments at their mercy.

The pattern is discernible almost throughout our history: undermine the people’s mandate from behind the scenes by vilifying political leaders as ‘corrupt’ or ‘anti-state’. Let alone Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mujeebur Rahman and many Baloch politicians, even Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the country’s founder did not escape the label of ‘traitor’.

Read more: Military's continued interference

The last few years saw the establishment come out from the shadows to shore up its latest brainchild, a ‘hybrid’ experiment with the PTI government. That ‘one page’, even by the standards of a country that is no stranger to combative politics, spawned unprecedented toxicity in the political arena.

Mr Khan is correct when he accuses several civilian leaders of being nurtured by military dictators, but — at least in the latter part of his political career — he is as much a progeny of the establishment. And perhaps as little enamoured of democracy as they are. Indeed, a one-party demagogy, manufactured by decimating the opposition in a sham accountability exercise and throttling freedom of speech, appeared a real possibility — until Imran Khan bit the hand that fed it.

But this time, a confluence of events, not least Mr Khan’s strategic use of populist slogans, has turned the playbook on its head. Those who believed they could indefinitely control the levers of power to their advantage find that the law of unintended consequences has caught up with them.

Also read: Army has nothing to do with the political process: DG ISPR

Now it is security establishment that is in the PTI’s cross hairs, facing the most vitriolic onslaught it has ever been subjected to from an ousted leader who enjoys the real and psychological advantage that mass appeal confers.

However, ‘people power’ — the very essence of democracy — is being cynically used to pressurise the powers that be to abjure their recent claim to ‘neutrality’ and again intervene in politics. Pakistan stands on the edge of a precipice. All parties to this conflagration must rein in their worst impulses, pledge to not malign each other and look to the Constitution for a path to coexistence.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2022

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