Pakistan goes to polls today in what is increasingly being seen as a blatantly fixed match. This General’s election has seen all shades and elements of political histrionics peppered with intrigue and subterfuge. Ironically dirty plot is being unleashed by the very two pillars of governance mandated to guard against these maladies, the Army and Judiciary.

There has been a flood of commentaries, almost all predicting virtually the end game for Nawaz Sharif and his party. Nawaz’s sorry plight is being ascribed to his temerity to take on the ‘Miltastablishment’, a new nomenclature for the deep state. In new normal of meddling, starting with US Presidential elections and closer home, India and China have been accused of influencing elections in Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Pakistan Army is being allowed to have a free run.

While we are decidedly uncomfortable with the sordid drama unfolding across our borders yet regrettably we have no real leverages. Main streaming of radical elements crowned by coronation of Imran (Taliban) Khan may not be entirely acceptable to Americans but they are comfortable dealing with Generals in Pindi House. Chinese despite having successfully disciplined and reorganised PLA are obsessed with CEPC, wherein they see Pakistan Army as the guarantor in this project.

Social media warriors exult in this unfolding chaos unable to discern differences between failing state and dysfunctional democracy as Pakistan has shown remarkable resilience to ride out of crisis coupled with amazing dexterity to forge alliances. Informed opinion has always wanted to deal with stable and democratic Pakistan rather than many rump states.

Interestingly, Indian think tanks have differentiated between populace and Pakistan Army, latter is rightly identified as the Centre of Gravity (CG) in military parlance. US army Field Manual 3-24, describes CG as, “ a source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act”. For decisive victory, CG has to be attacked and significantly degraded. A well considered formulation has opined that for long term solution, pre requisite is to discredit Pakistan Army in the eye of Pak public simultaneously empowering other structures for genuine democracy. This indeed is most difficult as despite set backs galore like loss in 1971 including 93,000 prisoners and Kargil misadventure, Army continues to enjoy overwhelming popularity.

Political re-engineering initiated by Gen Sharif and followed through by Gen Bajwa has resulted in marginalisation of moderate parties like Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), National Awami Party (NAP) and even Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN). While Nawaz has unexplained assets but timing of the verdict and shifting of onus of proof to accused are dangerous ‘judicial genies’ that may come back to haunt.

Many Generals including Musharraf and even low profile ones like Kayani have villas in off shore destinations, which certainly cannot meet recently divined ‘Sadiq’ (truthful) and ‘amin’ (trust worthy) criteria. Election Commission has also decided to join in this charade by conferring magisterial powers on Army officials on election duties, a bit of over kill for power of Khaki knows no bounds and hardly needs judicial legitimacy.

The Pakistan Army has been seen to be openly mid-wifing parties like Tehreek ye Labaaik Rasool Allah (TYLRA), party of rabid Barelvis. More recently, Gen Bajwa attended burial ceremony of Siraj Raisani of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), delivering very potent message of support to this new party. Extremists, past masters in coining identities have significant foot print, specially in Punjab, in shape of five party alliance, anchored by Muttaihida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek. These are essentially proxies for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Milli Muslim League. The Punjabis never short on humour are calling it “Military” Muslim League. Notwithstanding machinations, these parties are likely to remain fringe players and may only fracture the mandate thereby opening possibilities for post poll manipulations.

Parties to watch are Army’s favourite, Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI), PMLN and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). While Generals will do their utmost to keep Nawaz out by either propping Imran or cobbling an alliance. They may even break PMLN with potential rebel like Chaudhry Nisar, who is being primed for this contingency. Besides Imran, dark horses like Nisar and even Asad Umar, son of Gen Ghulam Umar, notorious war criminal of 1971 war are emerging in shadows.

Unfortunately, rulers sometimes over estimate their fixing capabilities forgetting that people have a mind of their own. They have capability to repeat 1971 story preferring Awami League over PPP and derailing Pervez Musharraf's plans in 2002 by denying clear majority to PML-Q. A pragmatic and good compromise may be to let Sharif seek an honourable exile and allow Mian ji’s younger and favourite son to discover the Shahbaz moment.

While we should not expect any Pakistan PM to be pro-India, yet he may be the best bet to keep extremism capped and let geo-economics discover its rightful place in dialogue with neighbours. Having been CM of most powerful province, he may be able to check Bajwa Doctrine, which advocates roll back of devolution of powers. Present federal structure is required to balance competing Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and Balochi sub-nationalities and keep Pakistan together. For this, the public in Pakistan specially the Punjabis have to speak through the ballot and deliver a long over due message to the Generals -- “back to the barracks”.

(Lt.General KJ Singh is retired from the Indian Army)