Milking the Bull
Immediately after the No-Confidence Vote, PTI and Imran Khan adopted a pretty bold anti-establishment stance. That, coupled with the anti-America rhetoric, has been the backbone of his narrative since he lost power. However, he and his party seem to be walking it back when one would expect that he would be doing the exact opposite, especially in the aftermath of Shahbaz Gill’s arrest. One would have expected that PTI would come out guns blazing in defence of Khan’s senior lieutenant but, initially at least, PTI leaders including Khan condemned Gill’s statement and distanced themselves from it. Since then, Khan has attacked the establishment and called on them to “reconsider.” One thing Khan has not done, however, is call for an end to the military’s interference in politics, despite some supporters and observers wishing he would. Khan’s anti-establishment campaign has been aimed at getting the military to bring him back into power, and at most at removing COAS Bajwa from office. Previously, PML(N) adopted a fairly harsh anti-establishment stance following Nawaz Sharif’s removal. But, when the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this year, they once again danced to the establishment’s tune and created a new hybrid regime to replace the old one when Khan started acting out of line, abandoning their “Vote ko Izzat Do” narrative that Nawaz Sharif had spent four years building. The reason these parties have failed to maintain or mount a push to end military intervention in politics lies in their inception and how they attain power. Khan came into the limelight under Musharraf’s tutelage, and it has been alleged by PTI’s former senior leader Javed Iqbal and Khan’s opposition that both his 2011 Lahore Jalsa and the 2014 Dharna were facilitated by the then ISI Chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Later, Imran Khan came into power in 2018 on the back of alleged support from DG ISI General Faiz and the military establishment. Mian Nawaz Sharif, similarly, was infamously groomed by Zia-ul-Haq and after Zia’s death, Sharif had an on and off relationship with the military, but he was seen as more palatable than Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s Party. PTI and PML(N) are both the establishment’s creations and will return to GHQ’s tutelage whenever they start favouring them again. Secondly, PTI’s primary support base is middle-class people whereas PML(N)’s is traders. Both parties also draw substantial support from rich businessmen and industrialists and most of their leadership is drawn from among them. Taking a dangerous stand against the establishment is bad for business, which is why parties with support bases that value profit above principles will never do it. PPP has had more success in maintaining an anti-establishment posture, mainly due to its history of antagonism with the military and partially because it primarily draws its support from among the intelligentsia and people with liberal inclinations outside of Sindh. Nevertheless, PPP has also failed to mount a meaningful anti-establishment campaign in recent years and does not seem interested in doing so anytime soon. Their feudal power base in Sindh and Asif Ali Zardari’s style of politics ensures that PPP will not engage in any meaningful struggle against the establishment’s interference. The fact of the matter is, whether because their support base and character don’t allow them, or because they are not willing, Pakistan’s mainstream political parties cannot be expected to take a stand against the military picking and choosing the government. PTI, PML(N), or PPP supporters holding out hope that it may happen are “milking the bull,” so to speak. Any genuine resistance can only come from progressive parties who derive their power from the people. While the Zia generation continues to believe that a dictatorship is the only way Pakistan can be ruled, popular sentiment across the country is extremely anti-establishment at the moment, and you would be hard-pressed to find a single young person with a positive opinion of the military. In this environment, the mainstream parties vying for the establishment’s support illustrates my point. Any expectations that one of our mainstream parties will seriously challenge the military’s interference is extremely misplaced. Expecting the biggest benefactors of the status-quo to change seems stupid, yet many extremely smart people continue to do that. For anyone seriously interested in making Pakistan truly democratic, a progressive alternative is the only choice.