New Delhi: Since independence, Pakistan has either had military rule or military-guided democracy. Despite the precarious existence, there has always been hope that Pakistan would break out from its military shackles one day and join the world’s democracies. That hope is dying. Pakistan is slowly becoming a military state with superficial democratic features. Even those will gradually disappear as the country gets drawn into the embrace of totalitarian China.

Nawaz Sharief and the rest of his political family are being sought to be permanently outlawed from electoral politics on charges of corruption without a fair trial. The judiciary is licentiously drawing from ecclesiastical jurisprudence to persecute the Shariefs and the Pakistan army entirely approves of the outcome. The former Test cricket star, Imran Khan, has strenuously cultivated the military following in the footsteps of Nawaz Sharief who was introduced to high politics by the generals. Except that the judiciary has enough to consign Imran Khan to the dustbin of history without exciting the smallest demurral from the military establishment.

As long as the United States was Pakistan’s chief Major Power patron, there was hope for democracy. It is not as though Washington had qualms about engaging Pakistani dictators during the Cold War and after. But Pakistan’s transitions to democracy from army rule usually occurred under United States’ pressure and the absence of a military takeover in all these years has also something to do with the diminishing traction of the Pakistan armed forces in Washington’s power circles. Still, Pakistan never managed to obtain an unconstrained liberal democracy such as India’s because the country’s foreign military partners during the Cold War and later in Afghanistan thought it expedient to directly deal with the military.

However, US-Pakistan relations are no longer close. The Cold War has ended. American interest in Afghanistan has diminished as threats of another 9/11 attack recede. Lastly, there is greater exposure of Pakistan as a country hosting terrorist groups that attack the West and Pakistan’s neighbours, India and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, as the United States pulls away and cuts military and social funding for Pakistan, China has stepped in to shore up the country materially and militarily. China’s end object is to make Pakistan a vassal when it cannot repay Beijing’s massive CPEC investments. China’s ally, Russia, has also mended fences with Pakistan because of its continued usefulness and relevance in Afghanistan. When the world’s oldest democracy makes way for two dictatorships to invest huge political capital in Pakistan, it is bound to affect the internal landscape of the country. That Pakistan’s fledgling democracy is unprecedentedly challenged should surprise no one.

Russia and China have no use for Pakistan’s democracy as they have none for the democratic system generally in their own vast territories. The Pakistan army has moreover developed close linkages with the PLA. The day is not far when Russia will also make sufficient inroads into Pakistan’s military establishment. This is a Cold War in reverse and principally directed against the United States and subsidiarily, on Pakistan’s and China’s sides, against India. As always Pakistan will not be the net gainer as one Major Power patron is replaced by two. Indeed, it may never recover from the aggravated assaults against democracy. To look just a small number of years ahead, China’s colonization of Pakistan will generate recoil which will not just violently and perhaps bloodily dislodge the Chinese but throw back the country to medieval terror. You could imagine the horror of the situation when the modern Pakistan army crumbles and its weapons of mass destruction are seized by terrorists harbouring medieval worldviews and prejudices.

The destruction of Pakistan’s democracy by a new class of inquisitors tacitly supported by the army will, if continued unabated, drive the country off the cliff. Pakistan has run out of statesmen who can tell the future, fear it, and be able to mobilize public opinion to stall the fiery denouement. The United States could have helped but it is marching off towards isolationism without stopping to care about the world, much less Pakistan. China, on the other hand, is so obsessed with becoming the preeminent Major Power that it is scarcely concerned about the number of foreign wrecks it leaves behind. Pakistan’s future is dire.