OPED By Rahul Jain
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a country that vacillates between a military dictatorship, an apology of parliamentary democracy, and a hybrid democracy. Over the years, the Pakistani Army has evolved and stabilized into a hybrid democracy in which the establishment runs the country and keeps the Western allies happy.
The recent tenure extension of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General (DG) Nadeem Anjum points to the continuation of this hybrid model for the upcoming national elections.
Under hybrid democracy, the idea is to have implicit control over all the critical decisions related to governance without upsetting international opinion, especially when Pakistan is made geopolitical insignificant.
The idea of hybrid democracy came about during General Bajwa’s first tenure; he was appointed Chief of Army Staff by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Later, General Bajwa initiated the ‘Imran Project’ a well-thought-out campaign by ISI DG Faiz Hamid and others to ensure that Lota (defector) candidates from other parties, especially in Punjab, jump ship and join the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf under Imran Khan.
Rise & Fall of Imran Khan
Imran Khan, once touted as the poster boy of hybrid democracy, lies in an isolated prison today. The hybrid democracy project launched by General Bajwa was largely successful in marking the rise of Imran Khan in 2018.
However, the establishment decided to pull the plug after Imran Khan’s disastrous reign in office. The establishment had realized it had bitten more than it could chew. There is no doubt that Imran Khan is the most popular leader in Pakistan despite the attempts made by the establishment to corner him after the May 9 incident.
Time Short For Polls
Last month, President Arif Alvi unilaterally proposed the cut-off date for the election as November 6, 2023. It is improbable that elections will take place under the stipulated timeline proposed by the President.
Moreover, the time was too short for engineering the move of elections; the postponement to February has given the establishment under General Munir time to replicate the same old model of a hybrid democracy.
Usually, six months before the elections, based on the trends and wishes of the establishment, the ISI starts to carry out a soft coup and identify those candidates with whom the law enforcement/State has had a past.
These candidates are coerced into joining the party the establishment supports in the elections. These candidates are the ones who end up turning the tables and getting the desired party to office.
Polity Of Defectors
Elections in Pakistan are community and personality-based. The voting patterns indicate that the individual and not the party can alter the election verdicts in Pakistan. Caste, society, tribe, religious and sectarian loyalties are more significant deciding factors than the candidate’s competence.
It is crucial to note that the feudalistic leaning of Pakistan society is responsible for much of its woes; successive elections highlight the sway these Lota candidates have repeatedly created. They continue to amass wealth and benefits and are not subject to political ideology.
While Shahbaz Sharif is a good PM candidate for the benevolence of the establishment, the impending return of Nawaz Sharif complicates the situation if the establishment decides to favor Shahbaz Sharif.
Nawaz Is Persona Non Grata
The Army would not want Nawaz Sharif in the chair due to their past differences wherein he tempered with the military hierarchy. Moreover, the Army helped Imran Khan label Sharif as a dynast who took the country downward and consolidated wealth for himself.
Nawaz Sharif is seeking a return to the country, for whom the caretaker PM Kakar has already indicated “the decision to handcuff PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif upon his return to the country lied within the purview of law enforcement agencies (LEAs), who would decide according to the applicable legal provisions.”
The People’s Party (PPP) has never been in the good books of the establishment, post-Benazir Bhutto assassination. The establishment always felt threatened by the PPP.
Historically, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) has never directly ruled Pakistan. They don’t have the people’s support to lead the coalition. Their presence is restricted to KPK, despite Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman being a key leader in swinging opinions for/against the party.
Turbulent Poll Season
Imran Khan remains the most damaging to the Army in this volatile mix of parties and leaders. The establishment has tried to keep him irrelevant by passively supporting the creation of the Ishtekaam party, and PTI Parliamentarians (P) aimed to cut his vote share in the next election.
The establishment will use these parties to siphon off the MNAs and cut down the Pashtun vote share that PTI enjoys in the KPK. However, the emerging challenge for the establishment is that Jahangir Tareen is barred from fighting elections, and Pervez Khattak seems to be losing popularity.
Turbulent election season lies ahead with Imran Khan in jail and alliances fraying out. The establishment needs to balance economic issues, the resurgence of Tehrik-e-Taliban, SIFC, and international support from the Gulf.
Political Uncertainty Looms
The last thing that the country wants is political instability. To ensure the stability of Pakistan, the Army may be inclined to the idea of hybrid democracy once more. The million-dollar question remains: how will the Lottes (defectors) be engineered to allow just about the majority for a party to rule and still the establishment holding the strings in the rear?
While Pakistani politics continues to be in a quagmire, it is essential to highlight the importance of Lota or turncoats in the Pakistani political system. Ever since the 1950s, Pakistani polity has struggled to keep Lotas out of its system.
Political uncertainty in the first 25 years of Pakistan meant it relied on feudal lords, Sardars, and Chaudhrys, which formed a perfect Lota candidate. The 1970s was the only election wherein people voted for the party rather than the individual.
Almost all parties accepted the Lota or electable culture and became part and parcel of political engineering to overthrow each other through the Lota culture. From PML to PTI, all parties have benefited from the so-called Lota candidates.
ISI Calls The Shots
Lota candidates with Sunni Islamic credentials will likely get what the establishment wants. In 2018, ISI, under General Faiz Hamid, controlled the Lota to get Imran a majority.
However, this time around, the ISI will require a longer time for realigning constituencies and Lotte engineering. The chess board is laid out with COAS Asim Munir, DG ISI Nadeem Anjum, and ISI’s Faisal Naseer on one side, playing against Imran and Nawaz.
The Lottes would finally take the game either way. Usually, the establishment knows which side the Lotte needs to roll. This is the first time that even the establishment is not clear on the direction in which the results must swing. As the elections approach in Pakistan, Lotas may soon be out in the open.