In his 16th century political treatise “The Prince”, the Italian diplomat and political theorist Nicolo Machiavelli says the use of auxiliaries by a prince, is useless. His argument was that these arms (the auxiliaries) may be useful and good in themselves, but for the one who calls them in, they are always disadvantageous; for in losing, one is undone, and in winning, one is their captive forever.

Looking at the not-too-distant history of Pakistan’s national security adventures, Machiavelli appears strikingly prophetic. These proxies were raised to defend our interests but have outlived their utility. In which case, they have become a liability and then bit the hand that fed them. Because the ‘hand’ didn’t want to be bitten, these proxies now have a larger than needed lease on life.

ASWJ, the now banned takfiri group, was given a go-ahead for its activities when the last PPP regime was to be discredited. The group is handy also, whenever approval ratings are required for some action by the establishment. These ratings were previously showcased in the form of massive rallies under the umbrella of the Pakistan Defence Council in the case of the embarrassment followed by Abbotabad fiasco, big demonstrations against a “renegade” TV channel, and big processions for ‘solidarity with the army’ during difficult situations. These proxies have also proven useful historically.

In a world marked by the ‘endgame’ discourse, Pakistan needs its proxies to not be seen by the international community as ‘crazy mullahs’ having ‘little appeal among urban middle classes’. Our dangerous proxies need a facelift, attracting educated classes with a globally recognized appeal of ‘change’.

But then, Pakistan is a diverse country. While the 60-70% rural peasant classes figure very little in the mainstream political discourse, the change is dependent on the educated upper middle classes in urban centers, and has to attract the suburban, quasi-educated lower middle class. When the older proxies, with violent religious credentials, outlive their utility, there comes a need for a benign clergy that attracts the salaried and the lower middle classed. A combo of both the above-mentioned new proxies would strike a decisive blow to the unwanted domestic forces perceived to be damaging the interests of the military establishment, who I consider to be the Prince.

The previous proxies however will not take this lying down. They will fight the new auxiliary. If they are not allowed to do that, they will take on the Prince. The Prince therefore, has to be the buffer between the new and the old friends to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Bloodshed has however been allowed in the Proxy Version 1.0,in order to keep auxiliaries busy and let them think they still have enough nuisance power. ASWJ and its allied groups continue to target Shia scholars, like recent Shia murders especially the high profile one in Karachi of Maulana Ali Akbar Komaili. In contract there is however, no attack or even threat of attack on the music and dance filled sit-ins in Islamabad (and thankfully so).

Here the point to ponder for the new proxies is the Machiavellian fact that every proxy, sooner or later, will outlive its utility. Once it is done with the job it was raised for, it has to be either eliminated or enter into a prolonged period of persecution, gradual withering away from national sight. Any serious power contender would think twice before accepting to be an ancillary. But ambition sees no bounds, succumbing to the trap is not too difficult. Imran Khan still insists on PM’s resignation, reforms come as secondary concern.

The loss is not only of the ancillary. The failure also awaits the Prince who, Machiavelli says, deprives himself of every chance of success by having recourse to auxiliaries. Unlike mercenary armies that are united under the control of a unified command, the proxies are far more dangerous. Whereas mercenaries are driven by material short-term benefits, proxies are driven by moral causes. Remember the Mujahedeen of Afghan Jihad era, who turned Taliban, and then turned against the Prince? In short, says Machiavelli, with mercenaries your greatest danger is from their inertness and cowardice, with auxiliaries from their valor. The high moral ground of Mr Khan is a tad scary. It may do well for the Prince to ponder on this.

Things have changed over a period of time throughout the globe. Wars once waged on the battlefield are now waged on the stock markets and in trade portfolios. The ruthless capitalist markets through international financial institutions engulf weaker economies. The philanthropic sentiments of powerful nations have become more or less a foreign policy tool ever since the Berlin Airlift of food for the besieged Germans (and after the 1988 hurricanes in Nicaragua however, no such sentiment of helping the helpless was invoked).

This selectiveness of today’s world has obliged many establishments throughout the world to be careful in their initiatives. The Saudi establishment can get its way, and doesn’t need to worry about this thing called democracy. However the oppressive establishment in Pakistan needs to refine itself and not be seen as a bull in china shop.

Gone are the days when the rogue civvies had to be hanged or eliminated through bloodless coups. The new murder weapon is defamation, vilification and denigration. Disregard and delegitimize the democracy so much that even those who are empowered through democracy must dismiss it disparagingly. Aproxyis meant to be lost in illusions of grandeur, that’s how they are prepared. The same grandeur and complacency will make them implode one day. That is the Prince will replace you with another shortsighted auxiliary.

The vicious cycle will go on till the end of time, unless the masses rise up to put the system right. This is not possible through the current “rent-a-revolution”.

n    The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist.