The caretakers have finally taken the oath of office. Those who have stepped in to oversee the conduct of elections are visibly PPP sympathisers. The candidates put forward by the PML-N have been totally eliminated. This has been so obvious that one newspaper bluntly wrote: “Zardari makes Sharifs bite the dust.”

The perception in public and some political circles is that our politicians waited for a nod from the forces, who have major geopolitical stakes in the region. The PML-N’s unquestioned acceptance indicates that these caretakers have the backing of powers that matter and the high drama that preceded their nomination was for public consumption only.

They do not see any difference in the objectives of almost all the political parties. To them, they carry the same self-serving and subjective agendas; indeed, the unanimity demonstrated in passing legislations for personal benefits at the end of the coalition government’s tenure shows amply that the political parties are on the same page for political and personal gains. In any case, the PML-N was a “friendly opposition” and is credited for the PPP government’s five-year stay in power.

Anyway, the caretakers are now tasked to oversee the elections. The tempo is gradually building up and electioneering has started. There are conflicting opinions and an uncertainty about the elections. The political parties have announced their manifestos and are nominating their candidates. While all this is going on, the same parties are voicing their concerns about the conduct and actions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). There is also talk about the application of constitutional articles for the scrutiny of the candidates’ nomination papers. These observations, indeed, force the people to believe that the elections might be delayed.

More so, the Qadri factor is still active. Dr Tahirul Qadri had openly demanded and campaigned for the delay of elections; his demand was to prolong the caretakers’ tenure till his 10-point agenda was enforced. It was clear that he had returned to Pakistan to carry out the agenda of those who wanted a friendly and manageable executive setup in the country. It seems that this danger has not yet abated.

Another factor has been introduced into our domestic politics that may also affect the elections. It is the return of former President Pervez Musharraf, who has shown his intention to contest. Like Dr Qadri, it is assumed that he too is backed by the powerful forces. Reportedly, he was in contact with the US authorities and visited Saudi Arabia before his departure for Pakistan.

Surprisingly also, the PPP and PML-N who were vocal for his legal trial are completely silent on his return, which indicates that it is with the approval of powerful quarters. How his return and activities will affect elections only time will tell. But one thing is certain: the times ahead are not going to be easy.

The question, however, remains: who will get the maximum political and strategic advantage from the delay in elections?

Obviously, a delay in the elections and prolongation of the caretaker setup will help USA to work towards its objective in the region; with no public backing obviously this will be a weak arrangement and prone to pressures.

Against this backdrop, America is in a critical stage of its occupation of Afghanistan. It has announced its withdrawal plans and as projected will leave the country by the end of 2014. Yet, its economic and strategic interests in the region will remain unchanged. The oil and gas exploration in CAR States, its transportation and marketing will remain a vital interest. This interest demands a friendly and stable political administration in Afghanistan and presence of a military capability in the area. So, it is expected that the US will keep its military presence in Afghanistan at least at three places in order to protect its oil and gas companies operating in the region. The strategic military interest dictates that China, Iran and Russia who is flexing its muscles again should be watched.

Moreover, the US fears that Pakistan is the only country that can throw a spanner in the works. While Afghanistan is a country where opposition to a weak domestic political setup can emerge quickly. The internal tribal and ethnic rivalries are unpredictable and if they erupt in post-US Afghanistan, the attitude and conduct of Pakistan cannot be determined.

The Obama Administration, therefore, believes that Pakistan must support and assist Afghanistan once USA ushers in an administration of its own choice. This demands that Islamabad should follow US dictates till a stable, sustainable and friendly political setup in Afghanistan is fully entrenched. This leads to the fact that the Pakistani caretaker setups should be friendly towards USA’s regional objectives. The sceptic, therefore, conclude this caretaker setup will be prolonged till at least the end of 2014. As the interim government will not be answerable to anyone, it can be asked to conduct itself on the guidelines provided from elsewhere. Two domestic political scenarios are probable.

So the elections can be delayed, despite assurances from the political leadership. Perhaps, terrorist activities can pick up momentum after the installation of caretakers that may provide a plausible excuse for it to put off the polls.

Already there are indications that insurgency in the state is on the rise; the delay in selected constituencies will be sufficient to delay the formation of the national and provincial governments. Dr Qadri and Musharraf’s presence may also create conditions that could work towards it. The escalation of terrorist activities is a potent threat for affecting the elections adversely.

Having said that, the other scenario is that elections are held. In the post-election period, the losers may be encouraged to mount a massive agitation against the results on the pretext of rigging. With PPP sympathisers as caretakers, rigging charges will seem tenable.

In 1977, the election results were challenged with such intensity that the country was subjected to military takeover, which lasted for almost a decade. The military rulers’ alliance with the US continues to cast its dark shadows till today.

Thus, a similar political disorder can be planned that will disrupt or delay the formation of a representative government in the country. This arrangement will immensely suit the vested domestic and the US interests. It may even result in another military takeover, if the events take a serious turn.

The current political scenario is quite confusing; political leadership is not showing any political maturity and sagacity. In fact by their belligerence, they are enhancing this confusion that gives the sceptics reason to put forward conspiracy theories.

Pakistan has suffered politically, economically and diplomatically due to uncalled for confusion that our leadership projects for personal and party interests. They should sort out their differences with political maturity for the sake of national integrity. It is, indeed, too weak to withstand the political confusion and disorder any longer.

The writer is a retired brigadier.    Email: arjerral@hotmail.com