For the first time since Pervez Musharraf stepped down 15 years ago to allow the democratic process to return, the army is now seizing a more direct role in running the country’s polity and economy. That opens the question of how India ought to engage with Munir, who is trying to reorient, for good or bad, Pakistan’s political and economic trajectory. On the face of it, the latest developments in Pakistan seem like the repetition of the familiar cycle — Rawalpindi installing civilian leaders in Islamabad and bringing them down at will. Yet, India must pay some attention to the potential new dynamic in Pakistan.
But first, is there a possibility that Imran Khan might yet bounce back? It is a political miracle that you might not want to bet on. A year ago, it seemed that Imran, out of power, was quite a threat to the system, and like the Biblical character Samson, would bring the house down in revenge against his captors. The large popular support for him, including in the ranks of the armed forces, seemed to make him a difficult challenge for the Army. However, slowly but surely, the Army has regained control. Thanks to the overreach by Imran’s supporters, who went on a rampage against army property when he was taken into custody on May 9, Munir had the opportunity to crack down hard. Like his predecessors, Munir has strong support from Imran Khan’s civilian rivals to put him out of action. As always, the Army was well-placed to exploit the contentions among the political class to perpetuate its centrality to the internal political order.
Thinking structurally about Pakistan, though, we might see some discontinuities next door. Munir is trying to end the prolonged instability that followed Musharraf’s rule (1999-2008). That the Army itself is responsible for this instability is true. That does not stop Rawalpindi from trying a different approach to running Islamabad.
Benazir Bhutto, who was allowed to return in 2007, was assassinated shortly after her return. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari led the PPP to victory in the 2008 elections. In 2013, Nawaz Sharif was elected to power for the third time. Pakistan was settling into a regular electoral cycle, and the peaceful transition from one elected government to another suggested that democracy might finally take root.