The recently concluded Senate elections have been double edged. On the one hand, they have quelled suspicion that the Miltablishment was intent on derailing the general election process by denying its bete noir PMLN an opportunity to seize the Upper House. On the other, blatant horse-trading has served to discredit, once again, Pakistani “democracy” and its political advocates and beneficiaries.

​The biggest horse-trader in the market is (Dr) Asif Ali Zardari. He has earned the dubious distinction of a PhD in political wheeling-dealing. Of late, Mr Zardari has won the blessings of the Miltablishment despite being its early and most-protracted victim, no small feat. He demonstrated his utility to “them” by knocking out the PMLN government in Balochistan last month. Now he has struck again, this time to diminish the MQM and PTI whose swollen ranks of corrupt politicians made easy pickings.

​Mr Zardari has also eased out both Raza Rabbani and Farhatullah Babar from key positions in the PPP, burying forever the last remnants of ideology from the eras of ZA Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Both stalwarts were in the gunsights of the Miltablishment for challenging its disruptive encroachments into the domain of “parliamentary supremacy”. This was deemed to be against the “supreme interests” of the PPP. For much the same reason, both gentlemen became so beloved of Nawaz Sharif (whose transformation from a Miltablishment sponsored autocrat into an anti-Miltablishment democrat is unbelievably against his own party political interests) that Rabbani was offered PMLN support for chairmanship of the Senate while Babar was applauded all the way out of the Senate for speaking truth to power.

​If Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif are playing uncharacteristic role-reversal roles, the Miltablishment is not far behind. The normally aggressive and prickly military has suddenly retreated into the shadows and the normally calm and considered judiciary has come out all guns blazing against this “contemptuous” democracy of the PMLN. Trivial, and sometimes dubious, transgressions of the law have become yardsticks for disqualification from contesting elections or holding important administrative posts. Mediamen, parliamentarians and assorted party loyalists have been hauled up for daring to scorn such judgments. Focus on the accountability of the PMLN alone has provoked shrieks of “victimization”. That is why Senator Babar is fearful that the “judicialisation of politics and the politicization of the judiciary” might trigger an electoral “referendum” against the judges in 2018, with terrible consequences. From being a historical handmaiden of an autocratic executive, the judiciary now stands accused of fronting for the military against a democratically elected parliament. Dilating on the role of PCO judges in the past, one discerning commentator has wondered whether the current crop of judges are truer PCO judges in reality than their predecessors in law. This is a sad comment on the state of our law and the play of our politics.

​The Senate race became farcical when the SC adjudged Mr Sharif’s nominations as being unlawful retrospectively because he stood disqualified to be the lawful President of the PMLN by virtue of a law passed by parliament, prompting the Election Commission of Pakistan to deny them their PMLN identity and classify them as “independents”. The same sort of tactic was used by the Miltablishment in the past to diminish or break up parties standing in the way of its manipulative "new order”. When the PPP was in the dock under General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s, it was forced to change its electoral symbol from the sword to the arrow; when it was in trouble again under General Pervez Musharraf, it was compelled to become PPP-P and Benazir Bhutto had to make way for Makhdum Amin Fahim as party leader. Now the boot is on the other foot: Nawaz Sharif was the main beneficiary in the 1980s but Asif Zardari is the big winner today.

​Surprisingly, however, Mr Sharif seems to have not only weathered the storm but uniquely benefitted from it. The voter perception that he is good for “development” (all development is local and all politics is local) and has been unfairly done in by the judges and generals refuses to go away. Mariam Nawaz has also succeeded in evoking the image of a beautiful and courageous daughter standing side by side with her father in his moment of trial and tribulation, much as Benazir Bhutto did in exploiting her martyred father’s legacy. So we may expect the Miltablishment to create new hurdles for the Sharifs.

​The first challenge will come in the Senate when attempts are made to stop Mr Sharif from winning the coveted slot of the Chairman. For starters, this will require Imran Khan to become bedfellows with Asif Zardari. This will require the permission of another bedfellow of Imran Khan, a certain Pirni who has alighted in his life of late. Then, on the eve of the elections, a NAB court is expected to sentence Mr Sharif to prison. 

​That is when Farhatullah Babar’s fears will ring true, with dangerous consequences for state and society.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.