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It Was Once Pakistan’s Military Stronghold. Now Even It Has Had Enough.

As they head to the polls this week, residents in Pakistan’s most populous and affluent province are fed up.

Just look around, they say: The economy is in free fall and inflation has soared. A favorite politician has been thrown behind bars. Everyone from young laborers to prominent influencers in the province, Punjab, have been jailed alongside him.

And it’s become clear, many say, that a group once widely supported in Punjab is to blame: the country’s military.

“We aren’t faulting the politicians anymore — now we know who to blame,” said Sibghat Butt, 29, a customer service representative in Lahore, the province’s capital. “We’re living in a security state.”

That anger is shared across Punjab, a stark shift over the past two years that has shaken a core tenet of a political system whose ultimate authority is the military. The growing criticism in Punjab has chipped away at the military’s legitimacy and helped make this one of the most polarized moments in Pakistan’s history.

Throughout the country’s 76-year existence, Punjab residents have been well represented in the military’s ranks. The elite in Lahore, an affluent metropolis, have long maintained strong ties to the upper echelons of the military establishment. While civilians in much of the rest of the country have been displaced or killed or have disappeared at the hands of the security forces, those in Punjab never really faced the heavy hand of the military.