Messy it was; the pre-poll period in Pakistan; a loud clamour and hullabaloo by many international and local media groups, about electoral freedom, establishment’s sinister ploy and engineered general elections. Phrases such as “Aliens”, “Khalai Makhlooq” and “Non-level playing field” were recycled more often than not by the political elite. Parties alleged suffocation, meddling, and raised the spectre of an establishment favoured “puppet alliance” or “New Islami Jamhoori Ittehad”. Fair enough. But now when the election fever is over, it is exigent to take a holistic view of the alleged unflinching powers historically exercised by establishment in shaping up Pakistan’s political landscape and find out to what extent democratic norms have been influenced, solely, by this factor and how?

The year was 1954 and PM was Muhammad Ali Bogra when first formal opening to establishment in decision making was provided by none other than a “civilian leader”. The serving C-in-C of the Army became part of his new cabinet as Defence Minister, thereby giving permanent place to army chief in the government. In January 1965, Field Marshal President Ayub Khan was elected president of Pakistan by an electoral college composed of “Basic Democrats”, who had been patronised under a system of grants and development funds since their own elections in 1959. Democratic veneer to General Ayub was blissfully provided by none other than political representatives of (CML) “Conventional Muslim League”. Starting from Bogra to CML, it was the political class, ready to provide their shoulders to establishment to fire and hit the bull.

Let’s get to July 1977. COAS General Zia led a bloodless coup, namely Operation Fairplay and enforced Martial Law. 1n 1986, Miss Bhutto returned to Pak from exile in London. She got in touch with (MRD) “Movement to Restore Democracy”, rallied against Zia regime and after addressing huge crowd on Independence Day was arrested as well as detained in Landhi Jail. Sighting buildup of masses pressure, while Benazir was languishing in the jail, PPP was made to split. And it was again the clique of political elite ready to execute “divide and rule” ploy. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, under his chairmanship, founded (NPP) “National People Party” bringing along number of political heavyweight including Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Haneef Ramay, Hamid Raza Gilani and Kamal Azfar. This imperilled Benazir’s position by alienating her from party regulars and organisational sturdiness. At that time, she was the only leader with a populist nationwide following, there was a lot of pressure on Zia regime and if her campaign was jointly supported, that could have been a moment of change. But she was left without broad spectrum of coalitions, forced to increasingly rely on demagoguery - which would inevitably pitch the domestic scene into turmoil and assure continued interference of the army in politics.

Let’s tumble to September 1988. Newly formed NPP, centre-right Pakistan Muslim League, religious-political Jamaat-e-Islami along with six other political parties formed an establishment backed anti-PPP coalition called (IJI) Islami Jamhoori Ittehad . The founder of the party was none other than Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, but besides him there was no dearth of leaders who were ready to cajole with powers that be and sneak through to power corridors using back door. Sharif was vying for control of the Pakistan Muslim League, which was headed at that time by former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and rest is the history. It was yet again a breed of political elite to serve as executioner in a larger game plan.

Catch onto October 2002 legislative elections, PMLQ, party formed with blessing of General Musharaf, won only 25.7% votes. With such a wafer-thin majority, party was unable to form government and subsequently support Musharaf rule. After over a month of wrangling among the three largest parties, PMLQ was able to muster “enough support” from independents and deserters from the other main parties to form a government. Yet again, it was a political elite providing desperate support which the general was in need of. After getting over with this critical phase, came the passing 17th amendment. The bill had been passed by a two-third majority also by the 100-seat Senate. In December 2003, it was MMA, under the “magical leadership” of Mulana Fazal Ur Rehman, which parted ways from (ARD) Alliance for Restoration of Democracy as a sell-out by the religious parties after 13 months of a joint opposition protest movement inside and outside parliament. The MMA won concessions in return for its decision to end the anti-LFO protest, support the bill and not to oppose the president in the vote of confidence. Resultantly, in Presidential election held on 1 Jan 2004, General Musharaf got simple majority of 658 votes, which was slightly more than 56 percent of the 1,170 strong electoral college and got elected as “President in uniform”. Main opposition ARD and its smaller allied parties boycotted the vote while the MMA abstained “without opposing the president”. It was the third dictator ruling the Pakistan, and he never felt privation of politicians ready to provide him constitutional cover by hook or by crook just to safeguard their own vested interests.

Fast forward to 2013, Nawaz gets into power. The experienced Nawaz having seen political ebbs and flows for last 30 odd years; a lot was expected. That he might have learned from past mistakes and take measured steps to break status quo shackles. Nothing changed. Nawaz was the one, not the court, who approved General Musharaf departure, in search of concessions from powers that be, rather trying him in court of law. During “Dawn Leaks Saga”, again making a compromise, sacked his minster as well as special assistance but as an afterthought, only after being kicked out of power corridors, realised that it was a huge mistake. Recently, in one of private channel program, it was reported that even recent NAB chairman appointment was also made by PMLN government on insistence from certain powerful quarters. A close family friend was the middle man who conveyed message to Nawaz. The question is that why an elected government would comply and be forced to do make all such deals? What all concessions and favours civilian governments get in response? Nobody was asking Nawaz on gun point to undertake all these adventures. It was all by himself who kneeled, certainly for obvious reasons and he has no body to blame for it. It was only after Supreme Court verdict, which declared that he is not truthful and trustworthy, that Nawaz turned ideological. But at this stage his narrative was a defeated and beaten tagline.


n            The writer is a freelance columnist.