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The abrupt fizzling out of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) long march can be explained by three factors. One, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) coalition government carried out pre-emptive actions against PTI workers, including arrests, and sealed the approaches to Islamabad and other major cities such as Lahore through the placement of containers and deploying police to prevent the protestors reaching their ultimate destination: D-Chowk, Islamabad.

Two, partly because of these measures, partly because the PTI was unable to mobilise the 2-3 million protestors it had claimed would be on the roads, the planned sit-in (a la 2014) seemed a non-starter.

Three, and perhaps the most important, the government called on the army in support of civil power under Article 245 to prevent the entry of the protestors into Islamabad’s high security Red Zone.

Amidst rumours that the establishment had been in touch with Imran Khan the night before he reached Islamabad, the mere possibility of a clash with the army may have caused wisdom to finally descend on Imran Khan and persuaded him to beat an ignominious retreat.

Obviously the government could not have unilaterally announced the possible deployment of the army in aid of civil power. Clearly, the military was on board, not the least because a sit-in would have perpetuated the state of instability and chaos caused by the PTI’s campaign since Imran Khan’s government was removed through a no-confidence motion. This loss of the establishment’s support is the glaring difference between 2022 and 2014, whose outcomes are complete opposites.

While announcing the end of the march, Imran Khan gave the government a 6-day deadline to announce fresh elections or he would lead another long march in Islamabad. That deadline is almost over.

However, reports say the PTI leaders and workers are disheartened and confused after the previous long march debacle. In this atmosphere, it is possible, if not likely, that Imran Khan may not even be able to mobilise the numbers he managed for the failed long march, which ended as a damp squib.

As is his wont, Imran Khan is attempting to cover up the failure of the long march through bluster, false claims, and the repeated (ad nauseam) fable of a foreign conspiracy behind his removal. The daily diet of demagoguery from Imran Khan now includes the charge that Pakistan is preparing to recognise Israel.

He bases this allegation on the revelation of an expatriate Pakistani NGO’s delegation having recently visited Israel and met the Zionist prime minister. However, Pakistan’s foreign office has punctured even this balloon by reiterating Pakistan’s support to the Palestinian cause.

Similarly, Imran Khan now charges the present government with preparing to sell out Kashmir, ironically while praising the Indian Hindutva government of Narendra Modi for its ‘independent’ policy, in stark contrast with Pakistan’s ‘slavery’.

Imran Khan’s daily diet of fanciful, nonsensical and unbelievable rhetoric is losing its impact and efficacy. More and more people have been compelled to see this behaviour as an attempt to cover up his mistakes and incompetence while in power, and to dismiss them as an effort to woo the establishment (albeit in a contradictory manner), without whose (lost) support, Imran Khan’s chances of returning to power seem remote.

The government has rolled back some of the draconian powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and amended the electoral ‘reforms’ introduced through an Ordinance by Imran Khan’s government. The NAB under Imran Khan and its departing head became controversial and lost credibility because of its perceived witch-hunt against the then opposition.

The government also seems to be veering towards the side of pre-emptive caution once again by mobilising the law enforcement agencies to ensure any succeeding PTI march is kept away from D-Chowk.

Their resolve has received a fillip through the revelation of an audio leak purportedly reflecting Imran Khan’s desperate efforts to reconcile with Asif Zardari through their mutual close friend, Malik Riaz. The effort/s failed, clearing the way for the no-confidence move.

There are deeper lessons to be drawn from the present conjuncture, beyond the daily diet of statement and counter-statement by either side of the political divide. Imran Khan, once considered the golden boy of the establishment, has lost that lustre.

The coalition government appears to now enjoy if not the same status, at least the comfort of being seen as the only viable option. The culture of seeking the support of the establishment in order to come to power, by fair means or foul, therefore seems stronger than ever. Of course the establishment is trying hard to be spared its blushes because of the mess it has created by claiming ‘neutrality’.

But any half-baked observer of the Pakistani political scene knows this is a hollow sham. Pakistan continues to be in the grip of the dominant establishment, an uncomfortable perch from which the country cannot be envisaged as poised to convert into a genuine democracy under civilian supremacy, the norm in most parts of the world, and most certainly in developed, credible democracies.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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M M Alam May 31, 2022 08:03am
Last two paragraphs are important. The rest are just for filling space.
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