Islamabad: Five months ago, with the tacit approval of the army, nearly all Opposition parties in Pakistan had unseated Prime Minister Imran Khan through a no-confidence motion in parliament. But many of them did not bargain for the political tsunami by the playboy – cricketer – turned politician when the country is in the grip of a natural calamity induced partly by climate change and partly by 75-years of bad governance.
The deposed prime minister is today like a man watching fire engulf his neighbourhood without thinking about the possibility of the fire reaching his own abode. There is as much a chance of Imran’s resurrection as Prime Minsiter as the chances of an end to his political career.
Imran Khan has been consistently demanding early national polls which he believes can put him back in the power saddle.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif right now is the most unpopular leader in the country because of the tough measures he has taken to arrest the economic slide that had started under Imran.
These decisions will breathe fresh life into the economy over the next six-seven months if everything goes well. Naturally, therefore, Shehbaz is in no hurry to hold the polls, which, in the normal course are due next year.
However, Imran is a man in a hurry. He is firing on all cylinders, cashing in on the conspiracy theories he had held responsible for his exit from power. On his part, Shehbaz has put his act together and almost checkmated him by hoisting a host of cases.
In a clever maneuver, Imran is trying to befriend the Army. “Give extension to the Army Chief Gen Bajwa,” is his new war cry.
Bajwa had seen Prime Misniter potential in Imran, brushed aside the two powerful political clans – Sharifs and the Zardaris, and foisted him as the Prime Minister in 2018.
Imran’s change of tract has not made Shehbaz to squirm with unease. Nor the demand of Imran that selection of new army chief should be left to the government that comes after the elections.
Bajwa is already serving a second three-year term. Speculation is rife that he is not interested in further extension.
During his last days in office, Imran had a show down with Bajwa. He wanted Bajwa to go. And toyed with the idea of replacing him by Faiz Hameed, a corps commander, who once headed Army’s intelligence set-up. There is no way he can realise this wish now. May be after the polls if he wins the mandate as he hopes.
The fall out between Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa was a sequel to the army’s decision to remain ‘neutral’ as opposition to Imran Khan’s “misrule” gathered storm. The protege went to the town attacking the army viciously often through innuendos.
As his frustration increased, Imran began to rile other institutions, including the judiciary. At a public meeting in Islamabad, he warned a lady magistrate to be prepared for ‘dire consequences’ because she had remanded to jail an aide of his charged under the sedition law. Imran accused the police of torturing and ‘sexually abusing’ the aide when he was in their custody.
Imran Khan himself faces sedition charges and has avoided incarceration because he managed to get bail. But some of the observations made by the Islamabad High Court suggest that his reckless speeches have not gone down well with the judiciary. He quickly said sorry but ducked a formal apology. This may cost him dearly, according to jurists.
As things stand today, Imran Khan is facing a three-dimensional danger – from his political rivals, the army and the judiciary. Protests from within PTI are also becoming louder.
“Imran is surrounded by snakes,” PTI senior leader Faisal Vawda said in a TV interview on Thursday, September 15. He was a familiar ministerial face on the small screen when Imran was the Prime Minister. He made two interesting observations. One over-ambitious people have surrounded Imran and have created misunderstanding with the Army. Two, as federal minister, he had requested Gen Bajwa to avoid snakes and talk directly to Imran Khan, ‘who is my and your boss’.
Faisal Vawda also debunked as blatant lie the PTI’s latest assertion that the establishment (Army) has a ‘minus one’ formula, (offered PM slot to someone else in the party). The Pakistan Army has been a king maker. It manipulates elections and makes victory nearly impossible for anyone the GHQ does not approve of.
Imran Khan has a good following among the radicalized sections in the army, including middle level officers, according to reports in the public domain. Some of the ‘Islam-Pasand’ (lovers of Islam) generals are sympathetic towards him. And he has been an open supporter of extremist groups like the Taliban.
In the intriguing political pot of Pakistan, the backing of a majority based on religious considerations is not sufficient to grab power as the likes of Hafiz Sayeed, the dreaded master of militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had realised on debut in the electoral fray that too at the behest of their handlers.
This is largely because top generals and many civilian leaders would not like Pakistan to fall into the vortex of radical Islam, especially after watching the fate of ‘liberated’ Afghanistan. In fact, sections in the higher echelons of society and the country’s power structure are keen to return into the arms of the magnanimous West.
Army chief Gen Bajwa belongs to this school as recent events show. He walked the extra mile to undo the damage Imran Khan did to ties with the US. And Washington was mighty pleased with his help in mounting the drone attack that killed al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri in his Kabul hideout.
The US has since re-embraced Pakistan. And in the name of fighting terrorism, announced $450 million ‘maintenance’ assistance for the F-16 jet fighters it had supplied to Pakistan. India is opposed to such weapon deal but Washington has gone ahead firstly to bring back Pakistan under its wings once again, and secondly to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on China.
For Imran the changed mood in the American capital must be a reason for worry. The GHQ and the ruling elite also want to reach out to the West. This surely mean shutting the door for Imran’s re-entry into the PM House, unless he has a radical change of heart.