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Systematically subverting the people's will

The Establishment's grip on political power in Pakistan
12:00 AM Mar 05, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
systematically subverting the people s will

Machiavellian politics, characterized by its cunning manipulation and strategic maneuvering, has firmly taken root within the democratic fabric of Pakistan, predominantly through the pervasive intervention of the military in electoral processes.


Despite outward assertions of allegiance to democratic principles, the Pakistan Army employs a multifaceted array of tactics aimed at systematically subverting the genuine expression of the people's will, thus ensuring its sustained influence and dominance over the political landscape.


This entrenched phenomenon finds its roots deeply embedded in the country's historical narrative, marred by a series of military coups and periods of martial law, as extensively documented by eminent scholars such as Ayesha Jalal.

Leveraging its institutional power and coercive capabilities, the military strategically orchestrates election rigging to manipulate electoral outcomes in favor of candidates sympathetic to its interests, thereby perpetuating its control over governance structures.


Moreover, the systematic suppression of dissenting voices, including the intimidation, harassment, and violent persecution of journalists, activists, and political opponents, serves to further consolidate the military's grip on power. Additionally, the perpetuation of dynastic politics, facilitated by the military's manipulation of electoral processes, ensures the concentration of power within a select group of elite families, thereby thwarting genuine democratic competition and entrenching the military's influence. Furthermore, the meticulously crafted facade of democracy, meticulously upheld by the military to placate both domestic and international stakeholders, serves to legitimize its rule while obscuring its authoritarian tendencies.


Embedded within Pakistan's historical narrative is a recurring pattern of military coups and interventions, emblematic of the army's enduring ambition to assert control over governance.


As Ayesha Jalal elucidates, the military's pervasive influence has consistently shaped Pakistan's political trajectory, often eclipsing democratic principles in the pursuit of power. Jalal's insights underscore the deep-rooted entanglement of the military within Pakistan's political fabric, with interventions disrupting the democratic process and subverting the people's will. Indeed, the annals of Pakistani history bear witness to the tumultuous oscillation between civilian rule and military dictatorship, epitomizing the perpetual struggle for power and influence.


These historical precedents serve as poignant reminders of the army's entrenched role in shaping the country's governance structures, fueling a cycle of instability and undermining the prospects for genuine democratic progress.

The strategic utilization of election rigging as a potent tool of control underscores the Pakistan Army's unyielding quest to manipulate electoral outcomes in alignment with its vested interests. By rigging elections, the military effectively subverts the democratic process, ensuring the ascendancy of candidates sympathetic to its agenda while undermining the genuine expression of the people's will.

As Ahmed Rashid astutely observes, the military often perceives itself as the ultimate arbiter of national security and stability, thereby rationalizing its intervention in civilian affairs, including the electoral process. This self-appointed role as the guardian of stability provides a convenient pretext for the military's encroachment into the realm of governance, enabling it to perpetuate its influence and entrench its control over the political sphere.

Through the systematic manipulation of electoral outcomes, the Pakistan Army not only undermines the principles of democracy but also perpetuates a cycle of authoritarianism, depriving the populace of their rightful agency in shaping the nation's future.

The Machiavellian tactics employed by the Pakistan Army extend beyond mere manipulation of electoral processes to encompass a systematic campaign of silencing dissent and stifling opposition voices through coercion and intimidation. As highlighted by Human Rights Watch, journalists and activists often find themselves in the crosshairs of targeted repression, creating a pervasive climate of fear and censorship.

The recent imprisonment of Imran Khan, Pakistan's former Prime Minister and vocal critic of the military's interference in civilian affairs, serves as a stark reminder of the lengths to which the authorities will go to quash dissenting voices. Khan's incarceration not only represents a flagrant violation of democratic norms but also exemplifies the military's determination to maintain its stranglehold on power at the expense of fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.

By targeting prominent figures like Khan, the military aims to send a chilling message to all those who dare to challenge its authority, thereby perpetuating a culture of fear and self-censorship that undermines the very foundation of democracy.

The Pakistan Army's manipulation of democratic processes extends to the construction of a carefully crafted illusion of democracy, strategically employed to mollify both domestic and international stakeholders. Despite engaging in undemocratic practices, including election rigging and suppression of opposition voices, the military perpetuates the facade of democracy to maintain legitimacy and garner support.

This duplicitous approach is aptly captured by political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, who notes that through controlled elections and selective interventions, the military seeks to legitimize its rule while simultaneously curtailing genuine democratic processes.

By presenting itself as a guardian of democratic norms, the army aims to deflect scrutiny and criticism, thereby preserving its grip on power without inviting significant backlash. However, this illusion of democracy ultimately serves to entrench authoritarianism and undermine the principles of genuine democratic processes, perpetuating a cycle of repression and subjugation under the guise of legitimacy.

Despite the rhetoric of being  democratic, the military's actions consistently subvert the genuine expression of the people's mandate, favoring entrenched interests over democratic principles. This subversion of democracy is further exacerbated by the targeted repression of journalists, activists, and political opponents, creating an atmosphere of fear and censorship that stifles dissent and erodes civil liberties.

As the nation navigates its democratic journey, the imperative to confront and challenge the military's dominance becomes increasingly apparent. Only by dismantling the structures of control and restoring the integrity of the democratic process can Pakistan fulfill the true promise of democracy for its citizens.

As  Amartya Sen emphasizes, democratic freedoms are essential for fostering human development and societal progress, underscoring the urgency of reclaiming democracy from the clutches of authoritarianism.

By Zahid Sultan

Zahid Sultan, Ph.D Candidate at Central University of Kashmir