The last two weeks in Pakistan’s life have shaken the country to its roots. As far as the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) coalition government is concerned, what a fall my countrymen.
Imran Khan decided to enter politics in 1996 after successfully leading Pakistan to its lone World Cup victory in 1992 and setting up the country’s first cancer hospital thereafter. Handsome, physically very fit, Imran Khan carried the aura not only of a cricketing hero but also a much admired philanthropist, a place he had arrived at after leaving his reputed playboy youth behind and being recast as a born-again Muslim.
However, informed observers are aware that his political mentors who guided and pushed him into politics, former ISI chief Hamid Gul and the Jamaat-i-Islami, failed to educate him sufficiently in politics generally and Pakistan’s needs in particular. In fact, Imran Khan did not have a clue in 1996 what he hoped to achieve in politics (apart from coming to power by hook or by crook), failing to enunciate what his PTI’s manifesto or programme entailed in terms of state and society.
Critical and progressive minds refused to countenance having anything to do with such a clueless ‘leader’, with the exception of Mairaj Mohammad Khan who became the PTI’s first secretary general but did not last long in the toxic political culture of the party and its adherents. Soon after, Imran Khan was bitterly disappointed at military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s fobbing him off with a sole seat in Mianwali in the 2002 elections, instead of being made Prime Minister (PM), which Imran Khan’s notorious ego felt was his natural right. At first Imran Khan revealed this bitterness and cursed himself for supporting General Musharraf amongst private circles while Musharraf was still in power. It is only when Musharraf became history that Imran Khan appeared on television to apologise for his ‘indiscretion’.
From 1996 to 2011, while the country was convulsed by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, General Musharraf’s confrontation with the judiciary and his ultimate ouster, and the election of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Asif Ali Zardari, which elected government gave way to the next for the first time in Pakistan’s history through the ballot box, the PTI floundered. Its sudden uptick in 2011 is by now acknowledged to owe a great deal to former ISI chief General Pasha’s tutelage and support.
The party’s support base, as evidenced in its initial big public rally at the Minar-i-Pakistan, Lahore, in 2011, consisted largely of the urban middle class, a relatively recent entrant into the country’s politics. This support base, both on the basis of its own culture as well as the messaging from the PTI leadership, reproduced the mind boggling level of entitlement, ego, arrogance and sheer hubris that eventually proved fatal for the PTI’s political fortunes after being graced into office through the support and help of the establishment through the less than credible, if not rigged, 2018 general elections.
But the establishment had imbibed the lesson of creating, coaching and bringing to power (thrice) of Nawaz Sharif, an experiment that from establishment’s point of view went badly wrong. The schema therefore was to bring Imran Khan and the PTI close to a majority but leave it dangling there. That meant small weathercock parties under the influence if not control of the establishment such as the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) (PML-Q) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) were inducted as part of the PTI coalition government. The scene was thus primed for pulling the rug from under PTI’s slim majority of five should Imran Khan too prove less than amenable.
And boy, did he. At a time in 2021 when it seemed nothing, the Covid nightmare, economic difficulties, even the lacking in credibility anti-corruption drive could unseat Imran Khan, in his own inimitable style, he shot himself in the foot. The ‘conflict’ around the appointment of the new ISI chief pitched Imran Khan’s desire to retain Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed in the position against the institutional working of the military.
Although Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was eventually posted out as Corps Commander Peshawar, the bad blood between the military and Imran Khan over this ‘interference’ in military affairs left an indelible mark. The establishment, worried by the non-performance or bad performance of the PTI government seems finally to have decided enough is enough. They declared ‘neutrality’, although such a posture in the confrontational scenario of the PTI government versus the backs to the wall (thank you National Accountability Bureau, amongst others) opposition, meant the end of the PTI government was nigh.
Had Imran Khan had even a modicum of political sense, he would have bowed out gracefully when the writing was clearly on the wall, sat in the opposition, and lived to fight another day. Instead, we were treated to the ignominious shenanigans and hanky-panky in the National Assembly (NA) over the no-confidence motion, as well as the egregious violence in the Punjab Assembly (PA) later. On the former, unconfirmed reports speak of the establishment finally putting its foot down, while the Supreme Court intervened to reverse the unconstitutional course adopted by the PTI in the NA. A similar judicial intervention (although not suo motu) might follow in the case of the PA dreadful happenings.
Imran Khan has taken to the streets after all his members of parliament have either resigned or are in the process of doing so. Whether one has any sympathy for Imran Khan or not, it seems foolish to give up the parliamentary platform as an additional theatre of struggle. If Imran Khan thinks he can overcome through street power, he should think again. No doubt the PTI rallies are impressive, a result not only of the core support of the PTI being intact, but almost four years in power arguably having expanded the support base, despite the economic hardships the people were subjected to.
In Pakistan’s history, should we break with our tradition to learn something from it, very few street power campaigns have succeeded, or at least not fully. At best they have led to change in governments, but the present concatenation of forces does not speak in favour of Imran Khan or the PTI. As it is, in time-honoured fashion, the wheels of counter-accountability have started to churn with the Toshakhana scandal. Watch this space for more of the same, and much worse.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022