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The year the hybrid system ended

What was the most important event of the year 2022? It was certainly not the ouster of Imran Khan’s government. The no-confidence motion that hunted him down was the consequence of a much larger political event – the end of the hybrid experiment. In a human laboratory famed for botched experiments and unmitigated disasters, it was a unique experiment and a unique disaster.

Let’s compare the Tabdeeli Hybrid System with other models of governance we have tried so far. If we put aside the chaotic first decade of our nation’s history, Pakistan has had two pure and two hybrid systems before the nation embarked on the Tabdeeli train.

The first pure system was the martial law, or early periods within a martial law before politicians were co-opted, a king’s party was formed and some sort of elections were held. The first few years of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf and the complete tenure of Yahya can be counted as pure marital law periods.

The second pure system was the short period of full-blooded democracy under ZA Bhutto (1971-1977) when an elected government enjoyed complete constitutional authority and ruled without sharing political power with the establishment.

Apart from these two types of pure systems, we have had two types of hybrid systems. There was a hybrid system under military dictators when elections were held, and power was shared with a king’s party. For example, Zia shared some power with prime minister Junejo and Musharraf with Zafarullah Jamali and Shaukat Aziz. We can call this hybrid martial law.

We have also had periods of democracy when Pakistan was seemingly ruled by civilian governments, but these governments had to share substantial authority with the establishment, making them hybrid democracies. From 1988 to 1999 and from 2008 to 2018, we were under such hybrid democratic systems. This is the system we have more or less reverted to in the year 2022.

The Tabdeeli Hybrid System was experimented as the fifth and final system. It was a hybrid of the two hybrid systems. It was a system that tried to capture the spirit of the time, combining Imran Khan’s populism with the establishment’s authority. It was a hybrid populist authoritarian system that aimed at single-party hegemony that was supposed to work like a king’s party. While remaining docile, the populist party was to ensure the overwhelming public mandate the establishment could use to ‘solve’ Pakistan’s problems.

It was a bargain that had been on the table for quite some time. Imran Khan’s first political mentor was Gen Hamid Gul. Later, Imran Khan presented himself to Musharraf as an alternative to the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. Unfortunately, at that time, he did not enjoy much popularity and lacked the Chaudhrys’ street smartness that Musharraf needed. As the PPP became unpopular after Benazir’s assassination, the opportunity opened for the dream-come-true system and it was a temptation that could not be resisted.

Imran Khan had a common ground with the establishment on two important points. The first was his personal background and his core demographic appeal. His background made him closer to the salariat elite rather than the traditional political elite the establishment had always loathed. He also succeeded in building huge appeal among the anti-democratic section of the urban middle class that had always supported the establishment.

Even more importantly, Imran Khan was a custodian of the narrative that the establishment had propagated since Ayub Khan but had failed to popularize among the people. Perhaps his first political mentor, General Hamid Gul, infected him with this narrative. Imran Khan turned the corrupt politician mantra into a battle cry. Like any good demagogue, he reduced all problems to one core problem and presented himself as a solution to this mother of all problems. He made this narrative so convincing that the establishment itself became its avid customer.

Since his ouster, Imran Khan has run a brutal campaign to get his hybrid system back. This campaign has won him new voters, but he has failed to cow down or convince the establishment. The reason is not very hard to guess. If the hybrid system is reinstalled, the establishment will be reduced to the role of his junior partner. For Imran Khan, the hybrid system was a means to an end and the end is the real populist authoritarian system.

Email: zaighamkhan@yahoo.com

Zaigham Khan, "The year the hybrid system ended," The News. 2022-12-31.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political elite , Political events , Politicians , Democracy , Establishment , Imran Khan , Gen Zia , Pakistan