New Delhi: With Pakistan again becoming a frontline state in the “Great Game” with the US withdrawal from the Afghanistan theatre, the army establishment is putting its pawns on the electoral chessboard in the run-up to the 2023 national election. Many believe that a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Bhutto-Zardari alliance is on the cards to keep Nawaz Sharif out of power in any future government. Recently, former Pakistan President and PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari said on record that an alliance with the PTI could not be ruled out in the upcoming election. Last month, Punjab Assembly speaker and an important ally of PTI, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, met Zardari and apparently discussed matters of national politics. Many believe he possibly discussed a future tie-up.

“The way the army establishment has targeted the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), they have not targeted PPP, therefore these possibilities cannot be ruled out,” Ashish Shukla, assistant professor, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Amity University, told The Sunday Guardian. “They want to repeat the Imran Khan government, as he is not creating any problems for the security establishment. As of now, he is doing the deep state’s job and is under their command,” he added. Many believe that Imran Khan’s regime is under criticism because of economic distress, unemployment and rising debt; therefore, it may be difficult for the government to come to power on its own. Therefore, the army will try to forge a broader coalition to keep the PTI in power. The way the Opposition alliance named Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was blown apart due to differences between PPP and PML (N), the army’s hand cannot be ruled out. “Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N) may come back in Punjab province and if they win by an overwhelming majority, then PTI needs to go for a coalition with PPP,” said Shukla, who had written a book on the Pakistani military.

“The Pakistan army is a significant factor in the politics of the country; whoever tries to challenge it will be removed. We have seen how democratic governments were overthrown in the past. As of now Imran Khan is a good man for them, so his government they would try to repeat in 2023 even in alliance with the PPP as Asif Ali Zardari has improved his relationship with the deep state,” Sanjay Kumar Bharadwaj, professor of South Asian politics in Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Sunday Guardian. “Now the Chinese factor looms large in Pakistani politics. Traditional parties like PML(N) may not fit in that; Pakistani military wants to be in the barracks but control things from outside,” he added.

The confrontational approach by PML(N) against the army establishment led to an overall attack by the deep state to put the party on the margins and helped the PTI to gain the confidence of the deep state as it backed the military in the episode. “Democracy is a joke in Pakistan; all the elections are more or less rigged. Once Nawaz Sharif was brought by the establishment to counter Benazir Bhutto, now Imran Khan has been nurtured and made the Prime Minister,” a senior commentator on Pakistan affairs told The Sunday Guardian. In a nutshell, if a PTI-PPP government is formed in 2023, then it will be courtesy Pakistani military establishment’s control over the democratic process.