Despite the setback — Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed independents have secured the largest number of seats in the National Assembly — the army will believe it has largely achieved its objectives. From Rawalpindi's perspective, the yardstick has never been the strength of democracy but more its uncertainty. In other words, clearer mandates make the political terrain more difficult for the army to navigate.
Nawaz Sharif's victory in 2013 was one such clear mandate, which the seasoned politician sought to deploy cleverly in extending his acceptability both internally and externally. He tried to steer the relationship with both the US and China from his office and bring the army within a zone of accountability through the Pervez Musharraf trial.
But he was outmanoeuvred, as the Panama Papers leaks provided fodder enough for the army to pile on legal pressure on him. He was swiftly debarred from holding public office and isolated. Through Sharif's entire term, Rawalpindi backed Khan to agitate against him, hold mass protests and build his repertoire as a political alternative. Efforts paid off as PTI came to power in 2018.
Five years later, the shoe was on the other foot. Khan was now the problem. He had transgressed civil-military red lines, which for Rawalpindi are etched in stone. He, thus, had to be removed, even