Islamabad, July 26: Pakistan got a big opportunity to 2013 to undo its tainted political past and pave way for a real democratic transformation. Five years since the country saw its first uninterrupted transition of power from one civilian administration to another, the chances were squandered and after the 2018 general elections, apprehensions about the nuclear state declining into a state of instability and uncertainty as it often did in the past are high.
As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insat (PTI) led by Imran Khan inched closer to a victory which his opponents found unconvincing, observers of Pakistani politics feared that the future might not hold good. The democratic awareness of the common Pakistanis might be better today compared to what it was decades back but the institutionalisation of democracy in the country remains a farce, to say the least.
PTI's victory will make anti-democratic forces elated
The PTI's imminent victory will make the anti-democratic forces in the country happy. For many see Imran Khan as a man to be closer to the army ranks and could turn out to be a puppet pulled by invisible strings. If that is the case, the men in uniform along with other quarters that look to undermine civilian rule in Pakistan, will be elated for both the major parties that have dominated Pakistan's politics over the decades - PML-N and PPP - are now out of the scene and they have to deal with an inexperienced leadership of a new party and a new leader.
But if Khan refuses to surrender, then it will be another ball-game
But what if Khan, a former sportsman with a charismatic leader and a mind of his own, refuses to toe the army's line after assuming power? If the PTI doesn't have its own government and has to depend on allies, Khan's authority will be weaker but if the strong personality in him still decides to do 'something original' by defying the power centres that are supposedly backing him, then more conflicts are imminent in Pakistan's domestic politics.
In either case, the civilian administration will be under an immense stress. The army in Pakistan, which was seen making direct interference into its politics many a time in the past and toppling elected leaders, has now desisted from a direct interference for that would put it under pressure on different fronts.
A direct military rule now would mean Pakistan's human rights records will be under international scrutiny; the direct responsibility of trying for an economic turnaround and also owing responsibility for Pakistan's struggling policy to contain terrorists (if there is any clean policy at all). After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan's ties with the West have seen a change and Islamabad now finds it more complicated to find a balance in its policies towards the terrorists and the West.
A direct military rule might not also get moral approval from the Pakistani civil society and media today since they have become more assertive than in the past. It is no coincidence that the 2018 election saw a massive crackdown on the media and the civil society because the forces against democracy want to keep the political developments in the country as much hidden as possible.
The army hence doing it indirectly: by targeting strong civilian leaders like Nawaz Sharif who dared to take it on; allowing extremist elements to get into the mainstream via the electoral process, etc. The civilian authority is not touched physically directly but it is left with little authority and the society with less freedom of speech. This is a new role the Pakistani Army is carrying out - on the lines of countries like Turkey and Egypt - where their effects are felt more than their direct role.
Post 2018, Pakistan might be in for political fireworks. If Khan, being ridiculed as 'prime minister select', surrenders before the army meekly, then the country will slide back to a sorry state with the post of the prime minister being reduced to a caricature. But if he doesn't and proves himself to be an Indira Gandhi who was underestimated by her party leadership but came back strongly to eclipse it, then the instability will only multiply.
The recipe is set for an individual versus an institution.
The Pakistani democracy might have just left its best days back.