The situation remains murky. General Bajwa left the scene after admitting his errors of omission and commission and insisting he had withdrawn the military to barracks, as it were, forestalling any political adventures in the future. But, given history and legacy issues, that is easier said than done. Since the political deadlock and economic crisis continues, the direction in which the new army chief, General Asim Munir, will steer the political wing of the ISI is still uncertain.
Imran Khan has also wrapped up his long-march agitation following its failure to achieve its double-barreled mission – stopping General Asim Munir from becoming COAS and pulling the PDM government down. He is diminished but not out of action. This is partly due to his dogged perseverance, partly to the sustenance he derives from his passionate popular supporters and partly from the uninspiring performance of the PDM regime tasked with delivering hardship economic policies to avoid financial bankruptcy. His latest move on the political chessboard is the announcement of his intention to dissolve provincial and state assemblies under PTI control, in the expectation of unleashing renewed political instability and economic turmoil to compel the “Establishment” under General Munir to step in again and lean on the federal government to call general elections.
On its part, the PDM government is expected to dig its heels in and show no quarter to Imran Khan. The corruption cases against PTI leaders, especially Khan himself, will likely be firmed and speeded up. Islamabad will also move to reclaim the government in Punjab since that is a pre-requisite for launching a successful pre-election strategy to win hearts and minds in the most populous part of the country. So, we can expect Imran Khan to raise a hue and cry and try to drag the courts and establishment back into the fray.
Meanwhile, the wretched economy will limp and lurch in this heavy political weather. Much of the international and bilateral financial assistance pledged to Pakistan is dependent on political stability and economic certainty. Since Imran Khan’s strategy is built upon ensuring chaos to force early elections, there isn’t going to be any reprieve on this front. Every day will bring news of some economic hardship or scarcity that will enable Khan to put the government on the rack and flog it. The PDM is praying it can hang on until late next year so that it can turn the economy round and shower some benefits on voters. Imran Khan is trying his damnedest to stop this from happening.
General Asim Munir arrives at a critical juncture. He inherits a discredited and divided military leadership and highly polarized civil society. Repairing the damage to his institution will require a firm hand internally and determined stepping back externally. The first condition is dependent on high moral standards, discretion and discipline. The second depends on his ability and inclination to resist the temptations of powerplay in the name of the ”national interest”.
Nawaz Sharif is also expected to return to Pakistan and occupy centre-stage. He will seek to reverse the trumped-up convictions and disqualifications against him while pressing the PDM government to give Imran Khan a taste of his own medicine. The bruised and battered judiciary that played a handmaid’s role in the Bajwa dispensation will look to the Munir establishment for guidance, as per habit, and finding none, will have to redeem itself on the basis of its ability to provide a transparent and level playing field for both sides by appropriate U-Turns. CJP Umar Bandial could still write a suitable epitaph to this dark period by facilitating the transition and enabling his successor, J Qazi Faez Isa, to consolidate the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
All this is a tall order. But at stake is the survival of Pakistan. The wounds of the Hybrid Regime on all sections of state and society are deep and won’t heal without conscious and collective effort by leading stakeholders in the military, judiciary, political parties and civil society in line with their constitutionally defined roles. The next six months will tell us whether or not we have embarked on the right path.