Ousted Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif seems to be offering proof that no civilian Prime Minister can remain long enough without having the label of ‘traitor’ pasted on him. Or her, because this was first used against Beanzir Bhutto during her first term almost 30 years ago. Mian Nawaz at that time joined in the chorus, saying once that ‘his blood boiled’ when he heard the very name of the PPP.

Its present head, Asif Zardari, was then merely Benazir’s consort, and had newly earned the sobriquet of ‘Mr Ten Percent’. Zardari, while President, is supposed to have been behind the Memogate scandal which followed the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by US Navy SEALs. That episode has parallels with Mian Nawaz’s interview, in which he is supposed to have alleged that the militants behind the Mumbai attack are being protected, presumably by the military’s intelligence agencies. In the infamous memo, Zardari is supposed to have called on the USA to help him against the military, and to have offered the USA a veto over Pakistani actions.

It is worth noting that both Zardari and Mian Nawaz are said to have expressed sentiments that are in line with the view that the USA, under President Donald Trump, is supposed to take of Pakistan, of a duplicitous country whose politics is dominated by its military, and which is a hotbed of terrorism encouraged by that military’s intelligence agencies. That American view is behind the establishment’s present problems with the USA, and the strain occurring in their relationship.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Mian Nawaz has made his appeal at the time it will be a campaign issue in elections that see him pitted against the pro-military Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan. It should not be forgotten that Mian Nawaz, under Zia ul Haq, was perhaps as much promoted by the agencies as Imran Khan. He is the second example of a phenomenon. The PPP was formed by people who had broken with Ayub Khan but whom were seen as a counter to Mujibur Rehman, who ended by breaking Pakistan into two.

This raises the question whether the relationship between the military and its protégés is like that between the President and the Prime Minister when Article 58 (2b) was in place, and the President had the ability to dismiss the Prime Minister by the expedient of dissolving the National Assembly. Before this so-called ‘safety valve’ was abolished, every President to hold office dismissed every Prime Minister. Ziaul Haq dismissed the Prime Minister he had himself appointed, Muhammad Khan Junejo. Ghulam Ishaq Khan not only dismissed the PM he disliked, Benazir Bhutto, but also Mian Nawaz. The solution, of electing a President from the same party, did not work, as the PPP’s Farooq Leghari also sacked Benazir.

That protégés will turn against the military also seems inevitable. The problem with Artcile 58 (2b) was that the President risked nothing by a dissolution, while a PM risked everything, not just his job but his very seat. A protégé will be selected because he has the ability to deliver what the military cannot– popular support. If he comes to power, he will come to believe in his own myth, to the point when it comes true. That is when he begins to resent the military’s ‘guiding hand’. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led the way, Mian Nawaz Sharif followed. To the extent that he is now willing to be called a traitor by those forces which labelled Benazir a ‘security risk’. Will Imran one day not find himself on that path? The disqualification of his Secretary General, Jehangir Tareen, coupled with the court cases in which he barely escaped disqualification because of his own overseas companies, should serve as a warning in advance.

The military relies on the judiciary for the execution of its purposes. This may well be because the judiciary has no choice but to administer the law. And the law is such that it is almost impossible to keep out of its ambit. The judiciary has a history of providing sanction to both the takeover and to the Army chief’s right to legislate.

Is it possible to see the military and the judiciary as loyal to a kind of supra-constitutional concept of the state? That is the only justification possible for the gross violation of the Constitution represented by a military takeover, and for the validation that it receives. It must be noted that the military has not tried to tear up the system whenever it has taken over, but make the existing system work better. The argument has never been that the system is wrong, but that politicians are too venal and corrupt to run it. While it is possible that politicians are indeed venal and corrupt, the question then arises why they are elected.

It seems that they represent something the ‘deep state’ (the military, judiciary and the bureaucracy) does not, and which is opposed to their interests. It is possible to see both the PPP and the PTI as representing the left, and the PML(N) and the religious parties as representing the right. The PPP and the religious parties formed their ideologies around Marxism; the PML(N) and PTI are post-Marxist. However, all political parties would inevitably have to pay attention to their constituents’ demands, and if these demands are subject to people’s wishes, they would sooner or later clash with the deep state.

People are so desperate for a change, so dissatisfied with their lot, they are willing to elect corrupt and venal representatives. They are also ready to accept out-of-the-box solutions, such as the military offers. Mian Nawaz has found himself called out on the charge of having business interests in India, with a charge of laundering billions of dollars to India designed to besmirch him and his party.

It should be assumed that Mian Nawaz made his remarks about the Mumbai attacks with due deliberation. It should not escape notice that the interview was given to the same journalist, for the same newspaper, as published to Dawn Leaks story. The underlying theme is the same: that the military is backing militants. Of course, the deep state resents this, especially when the charge is not just an old and common one, but is also believed in the USA.

Pakistan’s image abroad matters not just because of US perceptions, but because a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force is due, which will decide whether Pakistan is doing enough on money laundering, and will base its decision partly on how far it supports militants.

The whole episode is not so much about the military’s role in backing militants, as about the USA. Mian Nawaz has tried to punch the buttons that most affect it. That raises the inevitable question of what the USA means to the deep state, of which Mian Nawaz was a part, as is Imran Khan (being its political face). Mian Nawaz is trying to resist being sidelined. As the PTI is being groomed to replace the PPP, the new religious parties, like the Milli Muslim League and the Tehrik Labaik Ya Rasul Allah, are being readied to replace not just the old parties, like the Jamaat Islami, but also the PML(N). The agencies will thus avoid a situation where civilians have control over their own destinies. Civilians who are security risks cannot be trusted. But nor can those whose worldview might match the military’s.

At the same time, Mian Nawaz has called into question what apparently seems a no-brainer: the final word the military has over foreign and security policy. This final word, this supposed expertise, is what gives the military the right to rule. This also implies a denial of inconvenient truths, like the role of non-state actors.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

The argument has never been that the system is wrong, but that politicians are too venal and corrupt to run it. While it is possible that politicians are indeed venal and corrupt, the question then arises why they are elected.