There is one very simple reason why Nawaz Sharif will remain the Prime Minister of Pakistan until 2018. It is because there is nowhere near enough consensus among a large enough group of people to answer the most fundamental of all questions: what next?
The problem with all of those yelling themselves hoarse demanding a ‘Naya Pakistan’ using ‘Purana Pakistan’ tactics is that they do not seem to realise that they are already in the new Pakistan. In this new Pakistan, the establishment appears to have learnt just enough economics to realise that living without US support for Pakistan is, for the moment, impossible and thus an outright coup is out of the question. And once the military lost its biggest weapon, a democratically elected government can certainly be distracted from governing (on the off chance that it is ever in the mood to do so), but it cannot actually be dislodged by anyone but the voters themselves.
Let us play out all of the scenarios and see how feasible they are. Exactly what threat will the establishment, or its PTI-PAT allies, use to force Nawaz to accept any of their demands? A coup? Clearly not. If not that, then what, exactly? What does Nawaz stand to lose by standing firm, keeping Parliament by his side and telling the protestors that they have had their day but now they must go home? He has already had the Model Town FIR registered, and may have to hold elections on a few seats that will do nothing to seriously dent his parliamentary majority. Does anyone think the protestors can extract anything more than that?
I know what you are thinking: what if the protestors do not leave? Will he not have to bow to sustained public pressure? Will the media circus not force Nawaz’s hand? There is a very simple answer to that too. The protestors, who are dwindling in strength since reaching their peak two weeks ago, will leave once the television audience of ARY News starts getting bored, which it already has. The Pakistani television audience, like any other audience, has a short attention span. The saga in Islamabad is no longer entertaining. It is getting repetitive. Ratings will start to drop, the advertisers will pull their money and the television shows will move on to the next shiny object to distract the viewers with. Without a large television audience to play to, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri would be forced to abandon their Quixotic quest. All Nawaz has to do is wait them out till that point, which is likely not more than a week or two away.
But let us suppose that the worst case scenario happens and that somehow, magically, Nawaz is forced out. What then? One theory being bandied about is fresh elections, rigged for a PTI victory. But this hypothesis is highly implausible for two reasons. Firstly, the establishment may have an interest in maintaining its power, but it is not stupid. It is highly unlikely that anyone who matters in the establishment wants Imran Khan as prime minister. But even if they do, how exactly does the establishment plan on rigging the elections in Punjab without the help of the bureaucracy?
Punjab’s bureaucrats have just spent the past six years witnessing the rewards one gets to one’s career for being loyal to the Sharifs and the punishment one has to suffer for helping any of their rivals. Does the establishment seriously think it will get any cooperation from civil servants in the largest province in the country? Do they really expect to beat the only man in Pakistani history who was the target of a coup and live to not only tell the tale, but become prime minister again? Which lunatic bureaucrat would take the establishment’s orders against Nawaz? And without massive anti-PML-N rigging in Punjab, how exactly will the PTI be brought to power?
In short, did the powers that be actually think this through before setting in motion this set of events? Conventional wisdom holds that the current protest saga was initiated to cut Nawaz’s power down to a size the military is comfortable with. Unfortunately, in using Imran Khan, they went with the ‘all-in’ strategy, though perhaps inadvertently. There is something admirable about that level of conviction, certainly. But the problem with the all-in strategy is that you had better have the cards to win big, or else lose horribly. Nawaz Sharif should stop panicking. His opponents are all in and do not have the cards to pull off a win.