As Pakistan prepares for general elections scheduled for Feb. 8, the social and political environment in the country is in disarray, to say the least.

There are reports of ongoing arrests and a widespread government crackdown targeting politicians, activists and groups challenging the establishment dominated by the Punjabis, the country’s largest ethnic group, who are also in charge of the army — which in turn controls the state machinery.

This machinery is now in motion to “engineer” the upcoming election, in the words of a political analyst cited by Al Jazeera, in favor of the establishment and its preferred candidate, Nawaz Sharif. Sharif — who recently returned to Pakistan after a self-imposed four-year exile — has served several terms as premier, the first in the early 1990s and the latest from 2013 to 2017, and is the brother of former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who resigned from office in August.