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Imran Khan finally announced the date for the dissolution of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Assemblies on December 17, 2022, after having threatened it for weeks. The date set for the dissolution is December 23, 2022.

During his virtual address to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally in Liberty Chowk, Gulberg, Lahore, he had seated Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Parvez Elahi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) CM Mahmood Khan beside him. However, when Imran Khan once again lambasted his favourite hobby horse these days, former COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Parvez Elahi’s expression and body language betrayed his discomfort.

Sure enough, the very next day, December 18, 2022, the Punjab CM took Imran Khan to task for continuously criticizing General Bajwa and asserted that he and his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) would no longer tolerate any such remarks against the former army chief, whom he described as our and PTI’s benefactor. That did not detract Imran Khan from once again on December 18, 2022 painting the former army chief as having no problem with corruption and therefore himself being corrupt.

Parvez Elahi on the other hand, having just dashed to Rawalpindi for a meeting with the establishment, once again reiterated in a TV interview his relationship with the establishment, which he described as long-lasting and never broken under any circumstances even when times were rough in his interactions with the ubiquitous establishment.

Parvez Elahi’s angry rebuttal of Imran Khan’s continuing attacks on General Bajwa really put the cat among the pigeons as far as the PML-Q-PTI alliance is concerned. Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, perhaps sensing an opening, wooed Chaudhry Shujaat by suggesting some form of accommodation of Parvez Elahi to continue as CM Punjab if he were to ditch Imran Khan and come over to the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM’s) side. If that fails, the two PDM leaders discussed all the options available to halt the dissolution, particularly Punjab’s provincial Assembly’s, including moving a no-confidence motion against Parvez Elahi and/or asking him to take a vote of confidence from the Punjab house.

In the meantime, Imran Khan’s insistent demand that the National Assembly (NA) Speaker, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, accept the mass resignations of the PTI MNAs, does not seem to be going anywhere. The idea was that if the Punjab and KP Assemblies are dissolved along with the NA resignations being accepted, this would mount what the PTI hopes will be irresistible pressure on the government to announce early elections.

However, the snag is that the NA secretariat has expressed doubts about the signatures on some of the PTI MNAs’ resignation letters, and Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has flatly refused to accept the resignations without first verifying from the PTI MNAs face-to-face that they stand by their resignation letters of their own free will and without any pressures or coercion.

Whichever way all these manoeuvres by both sides pan out, Imran Khan’s plan is clear. He wants to deny any further remaining legitimacy to the existing political structure in order to make early elections necessary. Will he succeed in this endeavour is at least open to question, given the very public ‘falling out’ with Parvez Elahi, the blockage of the NA mass resignations, and Imran Khan’s off-again, on-again assaults on General Bajwa and, by implication, on the institution of the military.

It should perhaps be recalled that since his ouster in April 2022 through a no-confidence motion, Imran Khan has been railing about a foreign (US) conspiracy to get rid of his government. The cypher story never really took off nor was accepted by people. Now Imran Khan has joined General Bajwa’s name to the foreign conspiracy and, in his latest diatribe, accorded the honorific ‘corrupt’ on the former army chief’s name.

In the same breath, and ignoring or unaware of the implications and fallout of his anti-Bajwa attacks, Imran Khan expects the new COAS, General Asim Munir, to adhere to what General Bajwa in his farewell address had claimed: that the military had made mistakes and violated the Constitution in the past by intervening in politics, and had decided henceforth to remain neutral.

However, Imran Khan will only be satisfied that the military has indeed become politically neutral if the new COAS ‘ensures’ early elections are held after the dissolution of two provincial Assemblies and the mass resignation of PTI MNAs. What kind of ‘neutrality’ would that be? Imran Khan’s weak grasp on logic in the interest of his self-serving daily propaganda blasts is exposed by this contradiction in his stance.

The fact is that with the failure of his street rallies and abortive long march (because of being wounded in the Wazirabad attack), Imran Khan seems frustrated and desperate. He is therefore flailing around, clutching at straws, and, in his inimitable style, contradicting himself almost with every breath (the famous U-turns). Such a desperate hankering for a return to power (with, he hopes, the support of a ‘neutral’ establishment) seems to have addled whatever political sense Imran Khan ever had.

Imran Khan’s political fate and future will probably be decided in the next few days if his dissolution gambit and denuding the NA of PTI MNAs does not work out. That would imply Imran Khan has shot his bolt and needs to return to the drawing board, realistically assess the lay of the land and the forces arraigned against him if he is to keep his and the PTI’s hopes for the future alive and credible.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

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