ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — These days, politics here look more and more like a movie Pakistanis have seen before.
Anti-Americanism is peaking. Enemies of the state lurk around every corner, if the nationalist media is to be believed. President Asif Ali Zardari could hardly be more unpopular. Political insiders make a sport of handicapping how long it will be before he falls.
It is a familiar plot line. The question on Pakistani minds now is whether the movie will end differently this time. It is an increasingly urgent concern in a country where no elected civilian government — undone by its own vices and undercut by a powerful military and intelligence establishment — has ever survived a full term.
The last time Pakistan was in this situation was in the early 1990s, when the United States was fighting a war in the Persian Gulf and Nawaz Sharif, then the prime minister, and Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader, were accused of corruption and traitorous sellouts to Pakistan’s archenemy, India.
What followed is history: a decade of weak civilian governments that changed almost with the seasons and, in 1999, a coup by Pervez Musharraf, a general, whose rule lasted for nine years. The events were part of the pattern of weak civilian governments punctuated by military coups that Pakistan has lived through for nearly all of its 62 years.
This time it is President Zardari who is in the hot seat. Many blame him for creating his troubles. Corruption cases, which he says are politically motivated, dog him from past and present. He has needlessly antagonized his political opponents. He has linked himself to the Americans in ways that the military establishment has found both threatening and humiliating.
A case in point is the American aid bill last month that allocated billions of dollars for civilian use, a first in the history of relations between the countries. The uproar it created, which included a public protest by the military, tore through the Pakistani establishment with a vigor that surprised both American officials and members of the Zardari government.
While there is no doubt that Mr. Zardari has brought much of the trouble on himself, his situation is also part of a recurring struggle, noted Aasim Sajjad, an assistant professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
“It’s a story of a military that’s so bloated and so completely used to having a total monopoly on the affairs of the state,” he said. “All they have to feel is a very minute threat to respond in a very defensive way.”
The military has long had poisonous relations with Mr. Zardari’s party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, whose founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, so frightened the establishment with promises of reform that he was deposed by the military and executed in 1979.
That history remains raw, and the animosities and distrust between the governing Pakistan Peoples Party and the military provide the backdrop to the country’s narrative of instability today.
But that does not mean the military wants to run the country again. “Memories of military rule are very fresh,” said Ahsan Iqbal, an opposition lawmaker. “People have seen that it is not the solution.”
Najam Sethi, editor in chief of The Friday Times, a Pakistani weekly, argues that the nationalist upswell is part of a more general expression of angst. The hopes of the 2008 election — which restored civilian government after nearly a decade of military rule — have fallen flat.
“There is a feeling of impotence, frustration and anger all around, and Zardari is on the receiving end,” Mr. Sethi said.
Successive civilian governments have found themselves in similar positions. The party system is built on feudal patronage rather than service to citizens, perpetuating incompetence, indifference, callousness and corruption.
Defenders of the politicians argue that they have never been given enough time in power to improve their stewardship or to be punished by voters.
The military and intelligence establishment remains unassailable. It is both revered and feared by Pakistanis, who suspect its nationalist fringes of maneuvering behind the scenes, with help from allies in the news media, to keep civilian governments off balance.
At the same time, the news media today need little prodding, and are more diverse, powerful and nationalistic of their own accord than at any other point in the nation’s history.
“The media has a larger-than-life role,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. “It’s been setting the agenda for the country.”
Pakistanis themselves are not entirely comfortable with that development. In a Gallup Pakistan poll released last Friday, nearly one-third of 2,765 Pakistanis surveyed blamed the media for political instability in the country, according to the Gilani Research Foundation, which released it.
The anti-Americanism is part of that new media explosion. “It reached a fever pitch,” said Madiha Sattar, a journalist with the monthly magazine The Herald, who wrote a cover article on the topic in October.
At times, it feels menacing. Newspapers have published the local addresses of American diplomats, and identified the director of a nonprofit group as “a Canadian Jew,” in an article about a visa blacklist.
Some of that tone, which also contains deep strains of anti-Semitism, comes from a national education system that was put into place by the dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, whose textbooks and ideology were aggressively Islamist and ultranationalist.
“The state-supported Islamist-jihadi politics of the last 30 years has had a profound impact on the mind-set of the new urban middle classes,” Mr. Sethi said. “This mind-set is anti-U.S., anti-India. It’s a jihadi-nationalist mind-set.”
But there are concrete reasons for the anger, too, he said. First among them are America’s wars in the region, a sentiment reflected in another Gallup Pakistan poll, released in August, which found that a majority of Pakistanis saw the United States as the biggest threat to Pakistan, far more than the percentages naming India or the Taliban.
Other sources of the anger spring from the complex history the two countries share. Almost any Pakistani can recite the narrative: in its obsession with the cold war, the United States showered General Zia with aid, even though he had crushed Pakistan’s progressives and executed a popularly elected leader in Mr. Bhutto.
Then, when the cold war ended, the United States abandoned the region and imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear program.
So how will this story end? Mr. Zardari’s political survival looks increasingly tenuous. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is scheduled this month to consider the constitutionality of a decree giving politicians immunity from corruption cases. Its powerful chief justice, invigorated from a power struggle with Mr. Zardari in the spring, is not expected to be gentle.
Mr. Sajjad believes the plot will only be repeated, until a critical mass of Pakistanis with progressive politics coalesces to counter the ultranationalist right-wing voices.
“It’s a jumble,” he said. “The right presents a simple explanation and people accept it.”