The Post-Musharraf Hybrid Experiment Is Approaching Its Logical End

The Post-Musharraf Hybrid Experiment Is Approaching Its Logical End
While Pakistan has passed through many a crisis, the current imbroglio - the standoff between the parliament and the judiciary, between the executive and the judiciary, and the infighting within the Supreme Court - is absolutely unprecedented. That a parliament finds it expedient to reject Supreme Court verdicts, a Chief Justice unwilling to pay heed to senior judges of the court, and a worsening economic meltdown are symptomatic of a deeper malaise that afflicts the Pakistani state in general, and now the deep state as well. It is usually in times of crisis, as the cliché goes, new opportunities emerge. However, the current unraveling does not even promise an opportunity, for this is an intra-elite contest for spoils.

In mid-April, a high powered delegation of military officials briefed the Chief Justice and his brother judges on the security threats and why elections for the Punjab Assembly cannot be held on May 14. Then just last week, CJP Bandial backtracked a bit and advised the political parties to settle matters through dialogue and report back to the court. This is extraordinary because the courts telling political actors to conduct basic dialogue is at best irregular. This is what the dissenting judges on the bench have already stated in their verdicts: let the politicians handle their affairs and the judiciary needs to stay out of it.
The 90-day timeframe, set by the Constitution within which to hold elections, has already passed.

While the fate of elections in the Punjab hangs in the air, a key question that the Supreme Court has not addressed is why it is not equally concerned about provincial elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? It has also not tackled the questions raised by Justice Athar Minallah as to why the provincial assemblies were dissolved ahead of their term; and whether courts should condone execution of a political strategy that may have ramifications for the people's right to have an elected government in office?

The 90-day timeframe set by the Constitution has already passed. Judicial intervention and the reaction by the Parliament and the miltablishment is setting another dangerous precedent, i.e. constitutional stipulations can be discarded on grounds of expediency.

Prior to this, in an in-camera 'hearing', the Chief of Army Staff spoke to the parliament on security concerns; the government was quick to exploit the opportunity that the miltablishment was backing the parliament and the government on their decision to delay provincial elections. These shenanigans aside, there is some stock-taking that the new army leadership needs to undertake immediately, especially when the institution is being vicariously challenged by former PM Imran Khan, his affiliates, and sections of civil society sympathetic to Khan's platform and narrative.

For decades, the miltablishment led an anti-politics campaign and now the generals are at the receiving end of their own progeny. Former prime minister Imran Khan is not a traditional politician, as the miltablishment has found out the hard way. The old intimidation tactics have failed, and all the punditry around the imagined state power 'fixing' Imran Khan thus far has proved to be inaccurate. At the heart of the standoff, lies the division and polarisation within the deep state.

The term 'deep state' has been usually been employed to describe the intelligence apparatus that works in the shadows, wielding enormous power to make or break politicians, policies and movements. But the deep state in 2023 is not just the usual suspects. It includes serving and retired army officers, civilian and military intelligence operatives, mediapersons nurtured by the state gone 'rogue', and the information psy-ops infrastructure laid out by the establishment ostensibly to fight the 'fifth-generation warfare.' The latter infrastructure has also gone awry and assumed an online life of its own; efforts to control it have proved fruitless in the past one year.

'Fifth-generation warfare' is an obscure term first used in 2003 to describe a battlefield of "information and perception", but the concept was quickly challenged. Russian military quacks who wished to turn democracy on its head transformed this half-baked concept into what we now know as 'new generation warfare', or combined application of both lethal ops and psy-ops to win at the tactical level. Except that in Pakistan, the 'fifth-generation warfare' is now devouring its own maker. Retired army officers are lambasting the serving army chief; and defence analysts of yore with access to the deep state are building a narrative that the rank-and-file is not happy with the miltablishment's new policy of abandoning Imran Khan. Add to this the daily utterances, memes, and doctored videos posted by the Khanistas expressing their anger at supposedly the most powerful institution of the country.

Similar opprobrium was also expressed last year when the judges sat alert in their courtrooms on the night that Imran Khan was ousted through a vote of no-confidence, along with judicial preparations to counter then-army chief Gen Bajwa's ouster. The photographs of the current chief justice and other justices were beaten up with shoes by youthful overseas Pakistanis. PTI supporters in Pakistan also did not spare the judiciary and the military in their April 2022 protests.

Even if the miltablishment braves this crisis, as it did in 1971 and 2008, it is likely to remain doubly cautious for the favorable public opinion that is vital for its hegemonic stature in the society and, more importantly, the economic order.

But this anarchic information disorder is not just limited to the PTI. Members of the ruling coalition have been targeting judges, the Chief Justice himself, and a selected list of generals who are villains in their book. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which perhaps has suffered the most at the hands of the judiciary, the military and the right-wing media, must be startled at these new anti-establishment 'kids on the block.'

All of this chaos has seeped into the body politic of a 'nation' that, at the best of times, has been a tenuous construct. The intra-elite wrangling around a populist persona has laid bare the fragility of both the polity and of the much-celebrated unifying institution, the Pakistan army.

Even if the miltablishment braves this crisis, as it did in 1971 and 2008, it is likely to remain doubly cautious for the favorable public opinion that is vital for its hegemonic stature in the society and, more importantly, the economic order.

It is irrelevant when the elections are held, or whether Imran Khan returns to power. The latest experiment by a coterie of myopic and hyper-ambitious generals has gone terribly wrong. A silver lining in this chaos is that the miltablishment might have realized why it needs to sort its internal mess. But for 230 million Pakistanis, a tattered economy and a collapsed political system are far greater worries than the narrow institutional interests of the miltablishment.

The latest hybrid democracy experiment by a coterie of myopic, hyper-ambitious Pakistani generals has gone terribly wrong.

Early elections in the Punjab are unlikely to take place. In fact, the October elections now hang in the balance. Pakistan's ruling elites are in disarray and factions within the judiciary and the deep state are vying for power. The government wants the general elections to take place once a new CJP has taken over. Imran Khan and those backing him in powerful quarters want to push the schedule ahead, so as to ensure that Khan could be in office sooner. There are limits to what the miltablishment can achieve in the current scenario.

One possible outcome of this unraveling in the short term could be the unfolding of the hybrid-democratic experiment that started in post Musharraf era. To hold an election, there needs to be a modicum of consensus between various institutions of the state and the political parties as mediators and representatives of citizen interest. It is well known that a long term caretaker government comprising technocrats is an option under consideration. Given the situation, such a softer breakdown of the 'system' might be more manageable than an outright military takeover.

Are the politicians reading the writing on the wall?

The author is Editor-at-Large, The Friday Times and founder of Naya Daur Media. Earlier, he was editor, Daily Times and a broadcaster with Express News and Capital TV. His writings are archived at