Why’s everybody so surprised that Imran Khan was finally arrested and PTI’s reaction lit up the whole country? The arrest was on the cards for a while, and it was pretty clear, especially after the Zaman Park clash a couple of weeks ago – which, by the way, was very surprising – that the government would try to catch him off guard.
Hence the Rangers assault at the IHC (Islamabad High Court) which, for all the honourable court’s fuming, was declared legal at the end of the day.
Nor was the violent reaction any surprise. Murad Saeed’s audio message, urging supporters to gather at locations they were already told about, and the fact that PTI hordes duly turned up at military installations, only confirmed what some journalists had been warning about for a few days. That they had planned to storm the army’s sensitive points in case of Imran’s arrest.
The equity market’s 300-odd-point drop wasn’t surprising either. People used to the usual headlines expected a much bigger crash, overtaken as the market is by news instead of fundamentals, but having already lost more than 400 points on each of the two preceding days, it had priced in almost all of the madness by Wednesday and after moving down, then up, and then down again, it settled just a little above 41,000 points; 2.8pc down from Friday’s close.
That’s billions in stock investments gone to money heaven just because politics continues to keep a fundamentally good market oversold. The rupee also gyrated and eventually lost another 1.6pc against the dollar and now hovers around the 290 mark.
Yet, foreseeable as the recent past was, the immediate future is not so clear. PTI is trying to portray the NAB case as part of the army’s vendetta against Imran, even though the only thing that connects the arrest in the Al Qadir Trust case and Imran’s latest outburst against serving intelligence officials, and also the army’s subsequent rebuttal, is timing.
That fact that a corruption investigation which involves hoodwinking the cabinet and allegedly facilitating the country’s top property tycoon in exchange for favours and expensive gifts received, allegedly, still stands.
Legally, at least, the argument that Imran flatly refused to cooperate with the investigation and hence had to be picked up has merit. While the line that NAB is but a tool in the hands of the establishment and senior officials who’ve twice tried to kill Imran are using it would not stand in a court of law. Politically, however, it’s a different matter altogether.
From the imported foreign conspiracy to the exported local conspiracy to local handlers and foreign facilitators and now the revelation that the country’s own security machinery wants to eliminate Imran washes very easily with PTI’s rank and file, no matter how much the chairman’s new allegations negate his earlier ones.
And if the few cases against Imran that have weight proceed and the evidence is not to PTI’s liking, will they continue to play the only strong card they have – people power – and keep breaking windows and TV sets in military offices and homes? Surely, the reaction will provoke a very strong backlash of its own and the ensuing confusion and possibly violence will play right into the government’s hands as it bends over backwards to avoid an election it is sure to lose.
It will also completely wreck the economy. Most front pages ran Moody’s warning of default without IMF’s bailout right alongside the headline about Imran’s arrest.
And since markets, investors and financiers hate nothing more than uncertainty, how do you think the Fund feels now about releasing the remainder of the stuck EFF (Extended Fund Facility) or, for that matter, how would friendly countries whose bailout aid is necessary to secure the 9th review feel about engaging with Pakistan when the country’s own political elite is bent upon tearing it down?
Nobody wants to throw good money after bad money. And with Pakistan now confirmed as the basket case of South Asia, its common people – who are already paying in terms of hyperinflation and high unemployment for the corruption of their leaders – risk being abandoned by foreign lenders as well.
But is that really surprising when the entire political and institutional elite turns blatantly, unashamedly naked in its lust for power and privilege?
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023