In their post-authoritarian period, civilian governments in transitional democracies have often been battered by unelected power centers. Where do these unelected forces derive their power? This article addresses this question through a case study of Pakistan. Since the 2018 elections, a decade after leaving formal political office, the Pakistani military has asserted greater control over civilian government. Using the concept of informal institutions of political participation as an analytical framework, we argue that when formal forms of control become untenable due to legitimacy and/or functional constraints, the military turns into a Janus-faced institution, visibly acting as a formal state organ while invisibly protecting its institutional interests through what we call “informal mechanisms.” The article explains how Pakistan’s pre-2018 political situation dictated a quasi-military regime more suited to the military’s interests than direct military rule.

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