Shades of October 18, 2007 but a narrower escape. Benazir Bhutto was not harmed when her convoy was attacked at Karsaz in Karachi. Imran sustained wounds. However, November 3, 2022 could easily have been a repeat of October 16, 1951 or December 27, 2007.
Karachi, Rawalpindi, Wazirabad. Benazir Bhutto, Liaquat Ali Khan and now Imran Khan. Security lapse or something murkier?
Considering neither assassination was investigated properly, we may never know. In Pakistan, murky things often end up in blackholes.
Since Imran was ousted as prime minister in April 2022, many thought he will ride out into the sunset. His erstwhile supporters who had helped catapult him in 2018 had abandoned him. He had lost the electables who had jumped on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf wagon. More would leap off the ship soon. Memo-gate had alienated the US. Few had survived the coldness of shoulders wrapped in stars and stripes. None in Pakistan.
But since then, Imran has only gone from strength-to-strength confounding foe and friend alike. Even his most ardent supporters would not imagine that a few months after losing the prime minister’s seat, Imran's popularity would grow.
It seems that like Samson, Imran’s strength lies in an object, not hair as the Biblical judge but perhaps the container. The agitator was in his element. Not for him the shackles of constitutional or parliamentary politics. It would be to the people he would turn. Perhaps he had learned a harsh lesson from 2018: Faustian bargains rarely work out.
In the six months after leaving office, Imran has rewritten the rules of politics. He did not just remove the old ones from their fort. No, he has stormed the citadel, kicked down the door, torn up the rule book and burned the shreds in a conflagration fed by reports of his political demise.
In the past six months he has built up an unshakeable and unstoppable narrative of foreign interference, painted his opponents in shades of Mir Sadiq and Mir Jaffar, and given his army new vim and venom. Record levels of inflation, a crumbling economy, and sinking currency gave him plenty of ammunition. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had kissed the signet and was still thrashing in the deep end.
The mud is sticking. And the current government cannot wipe it off fast enough.
What are the new rules? Well, whatever he wants. How about kicking out PML-N from the province which made the party? Done. How about reducing the prime minister’s base to rubble? Done. What about unseating the heir designate to the throne of Lahore and installing his ally? Done. How about a landslide in the by elections on National Assembly and Provincial Assembly seats? Done. How about standing on multiple seats National Assembly seats and sweeping them? Done and done.
There have been attempts to tar and tarnish. Audio shares? Not even a lifted eyebrow. A tell-all press conference from a former party leader? Wake me up before you go. The ECP case? Par for the course. The response to each of these has been an imperious hand wave which would have done Victoria proud. No, we are not amused. We aren’t even interested.
This is all astounding. We have been in unchartered territory for six months. What could be more baffling? Well, how about the DG ISI in a live presser, trying to do damage control on the narrative. Never. Now its not just unchartered, its unprecedented.
By winning six NA seats by his lonesome self, Imran had sent a message to many people. To his supporters it was a reaffirmation, a second baptism, a sermon from Mount Margalla. To paraphrase Louis XIV,“PTI, c’estmoi.” (I myself am the PTI). Imran had demonstrated to PTI party leaders and supporters that he was all, no electables needed, no funds asked for, no old guard powers. The people had chosen him, and they can bask in his light. To his opponents the message was even simpler: do your worst, the people are with me and that is power that cannot be worked out in London or even Washington.
The pressure was building. The demand is devastatingly simple. Snap elections so the people’s voice can be heard. Imran wants to cash in his popularity cheque. He knows the public can be fickle. Agitation works for a while, the cooling off can happen. And so the long march through which his street power would be amply demonstrated.
But now there is an assassination attempt. The case is sub judice but already names have been taken. Questions should be asked about security arrangements, about the attacker, about the political climate.
No need to state it but it must be said: given Imran’s popularity and the political climate of the country it was a close call not just for the PTI leader but the country. There is a powder keg of fury. The people, the teeming masses leading increasingly difficult lives are angry. It’s a righteous anger and woe to those on whom it will fall. The effects of a wound are being seen already.
Meanwhile, Imran gains new followers. Can he continue to baffle? His actions give a simple statement: your move.
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