If the chaotic economic conditions, and a deteriorated image at the geo-political spectrum were not enough, the rapidly growing political instability in Pakistan is surely acting as a thorn in the flesh of the Pakistani Government led by the incumbent PM Imran Khan.
Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 opposition parties, has made its political goal to sack Imran Khan, who, for all we know, is a puppet in the hands of Pakistan’s army. This makes Pakistan a ‘Deep State’, which is an infamous and trending term in Pakistani politics.
Moreover, the news from international arena is not favouring the fate of Pakistan - withdrawal of US from Afghanistan seems to end Pakistan’s 20-year long leverage against the superpower, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is on the verge of putting Pakistan in the ‘black list’ for terror-funding and money laundering , Pakistan’s economy is now on the mercy of IMF bailout or Chinese investment in the face of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) , new administration in the US can create obstacles in the path of Pakistan at the international arena as the Democratic Party gives significant importance to human rights and democratic values in their foreign policy while dealing with countries unlike their Republican predecessor.
Getting back to the political instability, a major political shift is on the horizon for Pakistan as PDM launched a nationwide protest movement to unseat PM Imran Khan, seeking his removal over food shortages and inflation, and demanding the military to stop meddling with politics. The PDM is united umbrella of eleven opposition parties in Pakistan including Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League along with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and others in the leadership of Maulana Fazlun Rehman, who is elected as chief of the movement to avoid the internal clashes among the opposition parties.
The movement began with a huge rally organised in Gujranwala demonstrating that pressure is building on Imran Khan, who came in power in 2018 on the promise to eradicate the corruption in the Pakistani domestic politics, and reduce the powerful influence of the deep state, but it seems like Imran khan is following the path set out by military and ISI bosses.
The term 'deep state' is originated in the Turkish language. In Turkey, a phenomenon was called derin devlet or the deep state, which was first used in the context of groups carrying disproportionate influence in a polity, or a state short-circuiting the recognised lines of authority.
In contemporary times, Pakistan is deep state in the truest forms where the military, which has been touted as the largest political party that is always in power and does not have to even contest in any election to be in power, is calling all the shots. The deep state is often referred as ‘state within the State’ as it runs parallel with the democratically elected political leadership, and makes decisions that overrules every other constitutional institution’s in the country whenever its own ‘institutional interests’ are in jeopardy. It resides deep inside the bureaucratic machinery of the nation equipped with well-oiled public relations strategy to present the military rule as legitimate one. This parallel establishment is also assisted by an obliging vernacular media to propagate its narrative and to mobilise people in support of the army.
With a squeamish civilian bureaucracy, numerous activists, and a hyperactive judiciary opposed to elected Government in power, the military has demonstrated its ability to sway public opinion one way or the other to retain its salience in Pakistan polity.
Nawaz Sharif, who understands the zero-sum games of deep-state, and believed that it would lead the nation into an economic dead-end and an international isolation, is now part of the campaign which began as anti-government movement but soon transformed into anti-military. “General Bajwa is responsible for rigging 2018 elections, curbs on the media, abduction of journalists, and forcing judges to give decisions”, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said while addressing his supporters at the massive demonstration rally in the Gujranwala.
It is natural for opposition leaders to condemn the incumbent government. It is, however, quite surprising that they are confronting the powerful military, which is considered a “holy cow” in the South Asian country. The growing discontent for military has now been seen among the civilian population as an opponent in the realm of political governance and economy. “The military is not only involved in politics, (but also) has huge stakes in Pakistan’s economic affairs. To protect these interests, it has captured the state. The situation is so grave that elected representatives have become totally powerless”, a political-analyst Arshad Mahmood told DW.
The Pakistan army chiefs have ruled Pakistan for over 35 years directly, army’s total budget is 20% of the total annual budget of the country, it owns over 50 commercial entities, and rules country’s real estate, communications, and food businesses. Ayesha Siddiqa detailed in her 2007 book, ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’, how the Pakistan army owns 12% of fertile land in Pakistan, and the estimated worth of 100 senior-most military officials should at least be $3.5 billion. Nawaz Sharif even went to say that “State above the State” exists in Pakistan in the form of deep-state in his strident criticism.
The Pakistan Army’s project of using Imran Khan as a puppet to rule the democratically representative government has come out to be a total disaster for the governance and economy. The Nawaz Sharif government, which believed in free trade and considered open borders as the key to prosperity, saw a term of growth and economic recovery despite the efforts of army to destabilise the political environment of the country. Every economic and social indicator went downwards under the Imran-Bajwa hybrid martial law regime, and every constitutional right since has been trampled upon.
Pakistan’s economy is in virtual free-fall since cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government has been installed by the establishment. The cash-strapped Pakistan’s economy has been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but even before the Covid-19 breakout in February, the country’s economy was diving low from 5.4 % in 2017 to 3.9 % in 2019, while inflation skyrocketed from 4.2 % in 2017 to 9.4 %. Inflation is going to rise with the increase in the import of steel for construction, import of wheat and sugar to meet domestic shortfall. The Imran Khan led government has brought Pakistan on the verge of bankruptcy, said the PDM.
The measly economic growth puts Pakistan amongst the lowest in South Asian countries in human development indicators with about a quarter of the country’s over 220 million population living below the national poverty line, and over 22 million children remain out of school. With public debt at 70 % of the GDP, foreign exchange reserves sitting at a paltry $9 billion, poor exports and high imports, falling expatriate remittances, plunging stock market, a struggling industrial sector grappling with infrastructure nightmares like water and power supply, and faltering cotton-driven agro-economics, the hyper-patriotic, chest-thumping Imran Khan and his backers went begging the IMF for the 22nd time in the country’s history.
The high-profile kidnapping of a police chief in Pakistan by official paramilitary troops signals further turmoil in a country which is already bracing for more protests against PM Imran Khan. This would create more rift among civilian provincial government and Army. The promotion of jihadists and sponsoring of terrorism have already created a lot of hurdles for Pakistan in the past at international level, where it either sat in the lap of US or in China’s for protection. As US is forming a strategic partnership with India, it can only be China which can come to Pakistan’s aid.
Toppling democratic values in the name of preserving deep state is now beginning to create a havoc in the domestic politics of Pakistan which would have long lasting impact on the functioning of the deep state and in reflection, the government.