The word dull can hardly ever be associated with Pakistan’s political machinery. Talk shows, assemblies, cabinet meetings, the PM’s oft-seen attempts at mimicking and slandering opposition leaders, lack of ownership to disastrous governance in some instances are but a few examples of a circus that is perhaps only one of its kind.

A closer look would reveal, however, that maybe these are merely distractions. In reality, the wheel is being turned by force more potent and omnipresent, flexing its muscles from the shadows. The recent scramble between the courts and the government regarding the COAS’s extension is a pertinent example; where a law does not exist for the extension, a law is being “amended” to adjust General Bajwa and extended his stint for another three years. The interior ministry’s dash to have the judgment on the Musharaf treason case, one that has been stretched for a good part of a decade, and the prime minister’s previously vocal contempt for the former army chief’s suspension of the constitution only beg one question; who really hold the whip in this circus?

The fact that the current government adopted a country in a quagmire is one that is hard to argue against. With its economy supplanted by steroids and shrinking industrial growth, the threat of bullying by a nuclear-armed neighbor and not so friendly states towards its west, and a society’s social fabric threatening to unravel with the widening class gaps, the absence of a foreign policy leading to strained relations with previously close allies, it is fair to say that any government assuming the hot seat would face a challenge and a half. All this was complicated further by a bleak outlook projected by bodies such as the World Bank and IMF.

In all of this, the people chose Mr.Khan, with ‘chose’ being a word some quarters might argue against. Even after the government braved a tumultuous FY 2019, things are not projected to improve anytime soon. A real GDP growth rate increase of a paltry 2.4% (as predicted by the world bank) for FY 2020 in light of tightening fiscal and monetary policy by the government suggests the belt-tightening and its effects will still loom large. However, giving the government the benefit of the doubt by labelling these measures as “necessary”, a fair assessment of the running of this country would be based on institutional development and whether the PM lived up to his pre-election mantra of strengthening institutions. For any thriving democracy, the supremacy of institutions working within their respective ambits is not only crucial, but it is also the crux to the smooth functioning of the state machinery.

With several high profile bureaucratic transfers, cabinet reshuffles, dogged investigations opening up against members of only the opposition, and questionable running of ministries by “advisors” rather than elected officials are only some of the institutional problems hindering our institutional consolidation and growth. Very recently, Mr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, advisor to the PM on finance, and the de facto Finance minister was seen quoting the price of tomatoes at Rs.17/kg, when in fact tomatoes had crossed the Rs.400 threshold by that time. The minister for railways has seen a number of high profile accidents happen under his short tenure, with the recent tragedy calling for his removal as minister, has also somehow managed to cling to his ministry and reminds us of Imran Khan’s oft-quoted instances about how politicians should assume responsibility for their office and quit when such negligence occurred. Further, the passing of ordinances and bypassing the parliament, amending/creating laws to humour the military establishment and by intervening in Musharaf’s case only seek to undermine institutions.

So, if the government’s economic efforts can be shoved under the rug for now for a more nuanced study later, its moves elsewhere are short of being progressive. If the economic stutter is not supported by broad-based industrial growth, and the institutional rot is not halted, the country perhaps faces a crisis of alarming proportions.

The circus that we now see has multiple players, guarantees entertainment and has attractions of all sorts, from bearded fanatics to a leader who is fast falling short of all his promises, to the military might of the armed forces. Talk shows, newspapers or a general political discourse between two or more informed parties is enough to shed light on the new attractions of this circus, and we, as outsiders, can only sit and watch (and entertain ourselves). But whatever may or may not be true, there is only one true master of the circus, and the rest are all its subjects.