Whenever general elections draw close, the nation’s ‘electables’ and ‘influentials’ begin a frantic search for political platforms which they can attach themselves to, to ensure they get a share of power. And often the invisible hands that play an oversized role in managing Pakistan’s politics are at work ‘guiding’ these political nomads towards what are likely to be winning tickets.

Though no schedule for the polls has been announced, these activities have begun in Balochistan, as well as in Karachi and South Punjab, as electables size up their prospects, and the establishment continues its efforts to mould outcomes.

In Balochistan, an unlikely candidate in the shape of former Chief Minister Aslam Raisani recently joined the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, even though the Baloch sardar has little in common with the ideology of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s party. Earlier, other Baloch notables also joined the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. Meanwhile, a number of provincial lawmakers of Balochistan Awami Party, which runs Balochistan, have jumped ship and joined the Pakistan Peoples Party under Asif Zardari’s watchful eye. Balochistan Awami Party itself is believed to be an artificial construct, created in 2018 by the powers that be to rule Balochistan.

Over in Karachi, efforts continue under the Sindh governor’s tutelage to unite the different factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, namely Bahadurabad, Pak Sarzameen Party and the Farooq Sattar group, though the pro-Altaf London faction is likely to be left out of this formula. The wheeling and dealing in Karachi is also believed to have the blessings of the gentlemen in Rawalpindi.

In South Punjab, electables are reportedly waiting for a signal from higher powers to make their move.

The fact that political engineering continues was highlighted recently by Imran Khan, when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader made specific mention of the Balochistan Awami Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement developments.

It appears that promises made by the former army chief to withdraw the military from politics have not been fulfilled. To assume that the establishment would totally withdraw from the political game it has dominated for decades was naïve, but there should at least be some effort to disengage and let civilian politicians sort out matters. Yet it is also sadly true that many politicians themselves are to blame for looking to General Headquarters for ‘guidance.’

In Balochistan’s case, the establishment’s involvement has retarded political evolution in the province, adding to the people’s alienation with the state. The electables that are herded together to run Balochistan have repeatedly failed to solve the province’s myriad problems, leaving the common voter disillusioned with the system.

Only by allowing the organic growth of the political system in Balochistan can stability come to this troubled province, and the healing process begin in earnest. This also rings true for Karachi and the rest of Pakistan. Instead of manufacturing alliances, let all stakeholders – primarily the political class and the military – work to strengthen grassroots democracy.

This article first appeared in Dawn.