The latest corps commanders meeting has put out a brief but significant statement stressing a couple of points going forward. First, the stability of FATA is linked to its “mainstreaming” in line with popular sentiment. Second, the brass will continue to “support state institutions which are taking Pakistan on a positive trajectory of peace, stability and prosperity”.

Deconstruction of the first point means that the Miltablishment is unhappy with the pace of FATA reform pledged by the PMLN government, especially the process of taking charge of the security and administration of the area from the military which is under pressure from civil society groups to reduce its overt footprint in the area. The Miltablishment is particularly anguished by the anti-military stance of the Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement which is demanding that “disappeared” Pakhtuns be returned to their homes, security barriers restricting transport and communication be removed, land mines be deactivated and displaced persons be rehabilitated. In principle, these are fair demands for restoration of human rights. But, to be fair to the other side, it should not be forgotten that the “disappeared” are, or were, Pakistani Taliban combatants in a war zone who had terrorized FATA and threatened the very existence of the Pakistani state. It should also be noted that the security barriers are meant to check and prevent the return of terrorism to the region – an agenda that is being actively pursued at the behest of neighbouring powers with axes to grind – after the country’s security services paid a huge price in blood to cleanse the area of the menace. Similarly, the demands for the rehabilitation of displaced persons should, more appropriately, be laid at the door of the provincial and federal governments which remain reluctant to provide administrative and financial wherewithal for the project at hand.

The second point aims to back those state institutions that support the National Security Agenda of the Miltablishment as a prerequisite for peace and stability. Presumably, the reference is to the civil and military intelligence agencies and security apparatuses that continue to provide succor to military operations on the ground but are routinely criticized for impinging on human rights in one fashion or another. These have been held responsible for the “disappearances” in many parts of the country not of avowed terrorists but of relatively harmless bloggers, journalists and human-rightists with causes to defend without any hidden agendas.

There is, however, another interpretation of the statement that is causing concern. This is the imputation that state institutions like NAB, FIA and the superior judiciary have the Miltablishment’s support because they are taking Pakistan on a positive trajectory of peace, stability and prosperity. But, with due respect for the long arm of each of these institutions, their link to peace and prosperity is nebulous. In fact, it can be argued that the very PMLN government which these institutions are victimizing is responsible for the highest GDP growth rate and foreign investment in the last decade. Nor are PMLN governments in Islamabad and Lahore any more corrupt or incompetent than those of the PPP in Karachi, the PTI in Peshawar and the Independents in Balochistan.

No matter. The dye is also cast on other fronts. The aim is to take down Nawaz Sharif and cut the PMLN to size so that it cannot form governments in Islamabad or Lahore and continue to challenge the Miltablishment.

Apparently, Adiala Jail is being readied to shortly host Nawaz Sharif after his preordained conviction for corruption by a NAB court. Thus are the scales of justice tilted in favour of “national stability”. The PMLN is also in the process of getting a shave. Eight MNAs/MPAs from South Punjab and two from Sheikhupura perceive the PMLN ship to be sinking and have opted for desertion. Reports are pouring in from across the Punjab that the Miltablishment is encouraging prospective electoral candidates to switch from the PMLN to the PTI or PPP or stand as Independents, whichever position assures them of victory at the polls. Indeed, if the elections return a significant number of independents, these can be manipulated by the Miltablishment to do its bidding in the matter of formation of coalition governments in the same routine manner as the MNAs from FATA.

The PMLN Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, is in an unenviable situation. On the one hand, he must find a caretaker prime minister and chief minister Punjab who will be neutral if not pro PMLN. On the other hand, the opposition leader, Khurshid Shah, will be offering candidates with exactly the opposite attributes. Whatever the outcome – mutually agreed candidates or ones selected by the Election Commission – we can be sure that they will not be able to withstand any Miltablishment pressure to ensure “suitable” results, much like their counterparts in NAB, FIA, etc.

Call it what you will. But a “judicial-martial law” dispensation is in the process of consolidation. All that remains is for a technocratic government to bring about peace, stability and prosperity.