While Turkey witnessed a failed attempt by the military to topple the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week, questions were being asked whether we could see a similar tale unfolding in our immediate neighbourhood Pakistan, which is known for its history punctuated with coups since Independence. [Why India has never witnessed a military coup]
The speculation was all the more rife as posters begging Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif to take over the power were seen sprouting across the country during the same week. The posters showing a photograph of Sharif and the request "For God's sake, take over" were displayed by a not-so-known political party named Move On Pakistan which feels civilian leaders cannot be relied upon.
Posters brought memories on Pak's political past alive
The posters brought back the dominant memories of the country's political past. Pakistan has seen four phases of military rule since its Independence in 1947 while democracy, unlike in its divided half India, has failed to flourish.
Only one regime, that is of the Pakistan People's Party, has succeeded in completing a full five-year term in the country's history (2008-13). So the apprehension about the men in uniform taking over the reins of power yet another time was not completely baseless, particularly when a number of problems have plagued the country and its prime minister has found his kin's names involved with the Panama Papers leak.
A coup might not be a logical conclusion in Pakistan today
But a military coup is unlikely to be a logical conclusion in Pakistan this time around and there are a number of factors behind it.
Neither of Pakistan's domestic nor the external state of affairs are in a good shape at the moment. The economy is not doing particularly well while the country doesn't have much friends internationally at this time.
Internal and external challenges for Pakistan
The age-old ally---the United States---too has found itself more comfortable with arch-rivals India reflecting the new-age realities. Staging a coup now would mean that the Pakistani Army would have to now micro-manage the country's domestic affairs, something that would not excite it. The army would find it better to remain in the thick of things in the two important domains of foreign policy and nuclear programme and leave the administration to a weak prime minister.
In terms of the external challenge, too, a coup would mean that Islamabad would face more flak from the western world leading to imposition of sanctions on the country and make things more difficult. With Raheel Sharif not willing to see his tenure getting an extension, the Pakistani Army seems to be in no mood to run the country and rather focus more on the indirect ploy to weaken PM Nawaz Sharif so that the credibility of the civilian rule takes more beating.
Besides these two challenges, the Pakistani Army faces another difficulty. It is not that the men in uniform there did not face any resistance from the civilians while trying to impose its rule. But in most or all occasions, the civilian power was far too weak to take on the military's might.
Today's Pakistan has seen 14 continuous years of civilian rule
In 2016, when the country has seen 14 continuous years of civilian rule and in an age when social media has emerged as an important facet of a democratic set-up, the possibility of the army wilfully toppling an elected regime leading to a political instability has become all the more unlikely.
It is not without a reason that the army has targeted Punjab, the bastion of the Sharif brothers (Nawaz and Shahbaz), in the wake of the Lahore terror attack in March this year for it is through conducting anti-terror operations that the army can hope to challenge the Sharifs in their home province and make inroads in the politics there.
The army, thus, has to take the longer route to politics in Pakistan now than just stage a coup and take over the power directly.
Chinese investment and the all-important CPEC key for Pakistan today
An open confrontation between the army and the civilian administration in Punjab could see an economic toll as it would not only hurt Pakistan's image in the eyes of the donors but also raise a question over the Chinese investment since the latter wants stability in Islamabad to protect its projects.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a huge thing for the Pakistanis and they would be a big loser if the project bears the brunt of a power struggle between the army and civilian rulers.
Pakistan's electorate more active and aware today than ever
But the biggest safety shield of the Pakistani democracy today is its electorate. Compared to the past, the country's voters are far more active and aware (the voters' turnout in the 2008 and 2013 elections were 44 and 55 per cent respectively, higher than those between 1988 and 2002) and would not allow weak politicians to rule the country, letting each of their future facing an uncertainty. The rise of a politician like Imran Khan has also made the democratic game in Pakistan more competitive.
The diversification of the party politics has meant that the business of voting has a bigger stake now and this has undoubtedly worked in favour of Pakistan's democracy, changing the traditional civilian versus army equations to an extent.
Sharif may be the same face who was ousted in 1999 but ground realities have changed
The tainted CV of Sharif showing him as a premier who was ousted in 1999 in a bloodless coup and his prolonged absence from Pakistan on account of a heart operation are reasons why certain quarters in Pakistan tend to see him as an easy candidate to be toppled again but even though the face is the same, the ground realities of Pakistan are not the same as it was in the 1990s and that could save the country's democracy from another premature death.