The Establishment's Plan That Did Not Fail

Believing that the establishment would impose Nawaz with a majority government in Pakistan, just to wind up the failed Imran project started by their predecessors, is naïve

The Establishment's Plan That Did Not Fail

The long-awaited parliamentary elections were finally conducted on the 8th of February 2024, and as per expectations, became highly controversial. The general perceptions in the media were:

  • To wind up the Imran Khan project, the establishment has brought their new blue-eyed boy—this time Mian Nawaz Sharif—and, as Hamid Mir puts it while talking to highly profiled Indian Journalist, Karan Thapar, that the establishment is going to “impose” Nawaz Sharif on Pakistan.
  • To achieve their goals, they managed the Election Commission and the Supreme Court to ensure that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would not get its election symbol.
  • Before the elections, after running trials for hours, Imran Khan and his wife, Ms. Bushra Khan, were convicted to serve in jail.
  • On polling day, many PTI supporters came out ‘secretly’ and voted for the independent candidates who were nominated by Imran Khan. In the words of one journalist, “the PTI supporters picked the ballot papers from the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) booth, they had a plate of biryani from the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) booth and then voted the PTI candidate.”
  • The unexpected wave of the PTI voters who broke all the hurdles to vote for their leader’s nominations destroyed all the plans of the establishment.
  • After a miserable defeat, now the top-ranking officers are urged to negotiate with Imran Khan and give him as much as he can be given.
  • All those seats where the PML-N got the lead are rigged, and the establishment tried to salvage as much as possible.
  • There was a 10-year plan in which Nawaz Sharif would stay as the PM with the majority government and stabilize the economy and foreign relations with the help of the military.
  • Social media was used heavily by the PTI for their election campaign because they were prevented by the agencies from contacting their voters and filing the nomination papers.

In my opinion, this is a very simplistic view of what is the ground realities.

In Pakistan, the military establishment is always trying to manipulate the system in the name of national security. Now, they control most of the government-run institutions and the agencies are now highly trained to manipulate the system as per their will. If they ever see that their plan is failing, they step in with no fear of getting exposed.

During the elections in 2018, when they observed that their plan to bring the PTI to power was failing, they took over several polling stations and manipulated the results by turning off the Result Transmission System (RTS) as widely reported.

The military establishment, which brought the Sharif brothers into power in the early 1990s, could never get along with Nawaz Sharif although they had soft corners for Shahbaz Sharif. Even General Musharraf agreed to open dialogue with Shahbaz, but on the condition that Shabaz would abandon his elder brother Nawaz. When Shabaz declined, the process could not move further.

The current leadership of the military establishment knows very well that Nawaz would not cooperate when it tries to control the economy by extending its control jurisdiction over the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), foreign policy, and, most importantly, extensions of the tenure of the Army Chief. Nawaz also questions the military’s business empire, where --according to Raymond W. Baker’s book Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, the chief of the Pakistan military heads a huge empire of industrial, commercial and real estate interests worth an estimated $5 billion. A principal function of these businesses, according to Baker, is allegedly to serve as a private “piggy bank” for the privileged military hierarchy.

Believing that the establishment would impose Nawaz with a majority government in Pakistan, just to wind up the failed Imran project started by their predecessors, is naïve. To manage Imran, the military leadership required a counterweight that had equally strong street power. No one in Pakistan politics but Nawaz could be the counterweight to Imran. However, once Imran was tackled to the extent that his party could not sweep the elections, the carpet was pulled – which was put under Nawaz’s feet.  

Some sections of the media are spreading the perception that to keep the PTI out of the elections, the establishment managed the SC and the EC. In reality, PTI itself is responsible for losing its election symbol. If PTI leadership believed that the establishment wanted them to be at a disadvantage, they ought to have been very careful about their paperwork. The establishment might influence the EC, but the SC had to scrutinise the lower court's verdicts to ensure it was according to law, and examine whether the lower courts had done what they were not allowed to. If the establishment could not manage the Peshawar High Court, how anyone can believe that they managed Qazi Faiz Esa, whose background clearly shows that he cannot be put under any pressure? Media people who launched a negative campaign against Qazi Faiz lost their credibility.

The perception that Imran and Bushra Bibi were convicted after long trials, before the elections, is correct. However, some analysts believe that the unfairly conducted trials against Imran and Bushra Bibi, snatching the nomination papers in front of the media people, rejecting nomination papers of PTI candidates for frivolous reasons, etc were deliberately designed only to give them a popularity boost. In reality, the PTI submitted the highest number of nomination papers, and some of its absconders, who were wanted in connecton with the 9 May 2023 incident and some who are already in jail, were also allowed to run the elections.

Those who are involved in the Pakistan election process and many times performed duties in the polling stations say that a large number of voters, especially from the villages, need lots of help in revealing the symbols of their parties, finding the place to put the stamp, etc. This all happens even after the party symbols are known, and the party workers go house to house and educate the voters.

This time, the PTI voters – from villages and the urban area – turned so cunning that with no significant campaigning by the PTI, without having a unique party symbol, with more than one candidate claiming to be a PTI nominated, the smart voters not only found the right candidate to vote without help but also, instead of letting everyone know, they “picked the ballot paper from the PPP booth, had a plate of Biryani from PML-N booth and voted the correct PTI candidate,” to quote the senior journalist once again.

Is it believable?

The PTI claims they ran their campaign through social media. That in of itself is believable, because they ran a very organised campaign on social media. However, it is also a fact that fewer voters have access to social media, and these are those who live in the urban areas predominantly.

Anyone who believes that the establishment’s primary plan to launch their new blue-eyed boy Nawaz Sharif failed because of the ‘enthusiastic’ voters of PTI is living in a fool’s paradise. Nawaz can never be the blue-eyed boy of the establishment. He was used by the establishment just to ensure Imran’s ouster from politics, at least for the time being. However, they wanted the PTI to remain as a party. So, the best way was to break the party, send its nominees to the parliament, and then help them form a formidable force to challenge the weak central government. My understanding is that the PTI leadership (minus Imran) is on board with this plan. Now they will do their politics with the help of the establishment, while Imran will have to face more trials and more verdicts, and stay in jail for a long time.

The PML-N leadership can call the establishment’s bluff by stepping back and telling the PTI independents to form the government. When they cannot harness the magic number, then PML-N could put their list of their demands on the table. Unfortunately, because the Mian Shehbaz Sharif was obsessed with power, PML-N has lost this golden opportunity.

If PML-N will form the government, it must go to the IMF. Their conditions will further increase food inflation, gas prices, train ticket prices and bus fares – and overall, bring more agony to the common people’s lives.

That will push PML-N to oblivion.

For the PML-N, there are only two options left:

  1. refuse to make government in the centre, form a government in Punjab, and bring some prosperity and growth to common people's lives; or,
  2. after making a government at the centre, do so well in every sector that people would forget all the miseries – but it requires a miracle.

Unfortunately in life, we cannot make our plans hoping that a miracle is waiting for us.