Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pakistani establishment coming of age

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.


Establishment coming of age

The great Pakistani conspiracy of silence 1985-2016

Competition for power between establishment and the political class is neither new nor restricted to Pakistan alone. It is present everywhere in the world including old democracies, though a bit subtle and played with stricter rules. In Pakistan right at the time of independence the state institutions which were loyally serving the foreign imperialists within no time became the guardians of the new nation. Initially Pakistani establishment was dominated by the civil bureaucracy and the first cabinet mostly consisted of bureaucrats at important posts which at that time seemed a natural thing and was not opposed politically. It was in 1958 that the uniformed bureaucracy finally displaced the civil bureaucracy ultimately prevailing over it as the senior partner.

To strengthen their grip on power Pakistani establishment took many steps to discredit and malign their competitors, the politicians. They were labeled incompetent and corrupt and many honest and competent politicians were humbled and disgraced by the establishment through dubious tribunal like (EBDO) specifically made for this purpose. Interestingly the first such politician maligning tribunal PRODA was created by politicians themselves in 1949 for their opposition.

Later in 1969 uniformed establishment after sufficiently subduing the polity focused on the civil bureaucracy and cut it to size by dismissing 303 thoroughly belittling them. These officers had enjoyed immense aura, the kind gora sahibs had earlier.
Then came Bhutto with huge public support with potential to subdue the powerful establishment of all kinds like a whirlwind. He was dealt with severely by the establishment and removed from the scene. Bhuttos violent removal created a huge vacuum in the political scene.

Lacunas and vacuums don’t exist in nature and soon they get filled. Our establishment created a class of weak and pliable politicians with questionable integrity to fill this vacuum. Allegations of corruption and ineptitude made politicians vulnerable hence more pliable allowing establishment to control them while opportunity to ridicule them was an additional benefit. Naturally such politicians were preferred and nurtured.

Ultimately this tirade with lots of efforts resulted in creating strange icons, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Nawaz Shariff in Punjab to neutralize Bhutto’s popular appeal. It worked beautifully for the purpose it was made but brought new set of problems, extreme violence in Karachi and corruption in the rest of the country. These were natural consequences , after all what else could be expected by progenitors of Operation Changa Manga where political class was openly traded with blessings of the state apparatus and a political party installed by guns provided again by the state. It got so bad that politicians of pre military era started looking like saints while corruption and violence became the norm.

It couldn’t go on like this and had to be corrected.

The deep state at different times dealt with politicians with brute force lacking tact making them heroes in the process. Mujeeb was made a hero after Agartala case resulting in the Bangladesh disaster. Even Bhuttos judicial murder couldn’t dampen his appeal and his daughter came to power riding the wave of support for her father. Nawaz after being ousted by Musharraf came back to power with great public support after years of exile.

A conspiracy of silence prevailed from 1985 till the of Panama papers exposing corruption of our rulers they had vehemently denied. Everyone was aware of use of politics and violence for monetary gains but remained silent. Even Gen Musharraf after uncovering mega corruption cases preferred to use them for his political blackmailing instead of pursuing it in the courts.

Then came the realization a few years back that in its tirade to secure power establishment had created unaffordable monsters in the last 36 years who had become too powerful and well entrenched. The establishment had created them, made them to prevail and only establishment could dislodge them although at a price and a series of events started.

Then we started seeing coming of age of the establishment and a change in its strategy. Instead of brute use of force subtle manipulations of media and judiciary were used to disseminate and wet the information everyone knew already. Silence gave way to stories of violence and corruption of super rich politicians. Support and physical security was provided to those brave enough to stand up to these post Zia politicians with all their violence and corruption.

After years of efforts Altaf Hassain’s wings were clipped slowly and gradually. For years highly educated, decent people couldn’t dare to criticize Altaf Hussain who wasn’t healthy physically or otherwise. His speeches were absolute mockery of decency and rationality but he would get away with them for a quarter century. It took a long time and many people died in the process but ultimately Altaf was made irrelevant and on the way to political oblivion.

Then came the turn to Asif Zardari tragically using Bhuttos legacy, and months after threatening the establishment he was forced into his senses and is now vehemently trying to oblige and earn a pardon. It is surprising to see a man with Zardari’s past and credentials standing up against the state, needs some brazenness.

Nawaz Sharif’s case was different, despite enormous discrepancies he was tactful and had made deep inroads in most segments of society and international community. 36 years in politics, mostly in power, he had carefully cultivated personal relations and planted beneficiaries and sycophants at every position that matters.  Personal loyalty was what he demanded and ultimately it looked like he had prevailed and would subdue or dislodge the only institutions that retained the ability to resist his absolute hegemony. This was despite probably the darkest past a politician could have. He got away with operation Changa Manga, instigating provincialism, defying the federal government, ridiculing BBs gender and anatomy, openly courting extremists and UBL, squandering national coffers with yellow cabs, unabashed political use for personal business, attack on supreme court, threatening judges; and the list of crimes he got away with appears endless. 

Then came help from nowhere and Panama leaks exposed Shariff’s lies and cunning. No wonder he still thinks that someone at home had initiated it refusing to believe that nature has its own workings as they say in Punjabi, “At Khuda da vair”. He is resisting very skillfully brutally using his enormous influence over media and institutions accumulated over decades. Unfortunately for him it’s not working anymore. The more he tries, the worse it becomes. He is on his way out although how much more he will be humiliated will depend on his future actions.

This time in their tirade against politicians the establishment was helped by incredible luck and their corruption. This might not happen again. Establishment’s frequent short sighted meddling in politics resulted in destruction of politics in Pakistan creating strange self serving leaders harming the country. We lost our peace and prosperity. Once established these establishment created politicians are hard to dislodge and the process is painful and damaging. Still it has to be done for the sake of Pakistan as ordinary people cant afford kleptomaniacs or self styled deliverers anymore.

Final lesson for the establishment is that they created this mess we are in. It should stay away from politics otherwise they would mess it up again and then cleaning up might be even more painful or maybe outright impossible.


  1. Only time will tell if this has really happened. I am cynical about this.


    1. Thanks for the comments.
      I found many people equally cynical of Zia removing the Bhutto government in 1977. They thought it was Bhuttos design to defuse the movement through his handpicked lackey general.
      Rest is history.

  2. Sir has the involvement of establishment always been widely appreciated by the public? Have we always remained this short sighted? And how much of a guarantee is there that the involvement this time is any different?

    1. I appologise Ch sahib for missing your comment, just saw it.
      Establishments meddling in Pakistani politics has been detrimental. They have created Frankenstein's monsters that are out of reach of the civil society and only the creator has the ability to control.
      Out of the 3 monsters Zia created namely Jehadis, Altaf and Corruption (MNS) 3rd is probably the most vicious and must be brought to the book.
      As far as guarantees are concerned I must acknowledge that there are no guarantees in life. Still logic of successive approximations lead us to fight the corrupt/undeserving until we find the right ones. Just cant afford to be complacent.
      Thanks for the comment.