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November 24, 2019

PM Imran Khan’s ‘U-turn’ on neutral umpire


November 24, 2019

Cricketer Imran Khan always believed playing under neutral umpires and was the one who floated this idea for the first time and the cricketing world recognised it.

But it appears as prime minister, Imran, who always defended ‘U-turn’, now believes in playing with his own ‘umpires’ in politics to counter his opponents. He now looked more comfortable, confident and secure, which clearly reflected from his recent interview-cum-talk with our colleague and Jang’s analyst, columnist Irshad Bhatti. He doesn’t see any immediate threat to his government.

“The Opposition has to tolerate me for another three years,” he said. He is also confident that all conspiracy theories in the social and mainstream media regarding such perception would die down soon. The premier also not looked much concerned with ‘foreign funding’ case but his government has tense relationship with the Election Commission of Pakistan and he certainly wanted some ‘yes man’ as new chief election commissioner while the issue of two members of the ECP is still unresolved.

Imran’s politics had been more non-traditional and un-conventional as his popular base is different from his opponents. What goes to his credit was in bringing a new voter and supporters in politics including youth and families, who never voted in the past but went to polling stations in 2013 and 2018. Some are disappointed with his performance others still see him as their last hope. He still has time to prove. Today, he has unprecedented support of ‘umpire’ and unlike his predecessors he decided from day one to play on the ‘same page’. It was in this context that he was a bit upset in view of some of the recent happenings and inquired why such reports are on the social media and why his allies suddenly put him under pressure.

During 2018 elections he had criticised Sharifs and said they lost elections because for the first time ‘umpires’ were ‘neutral’ or in other words were not on their side. Nawaz Sharif already disqualified in 2017 and also convicted but the PML-N still emerged as a major party and had PML-Q, MQM-P, Janoobi Punjab Mahaz and BNP-Mengal not voted in favour of the PTI, they would not be able to form the government at the Centre and in Punjab.

So whether ‘umpires’ were neutral or changed their side would be interesting to look into when it comes to analyse 2018 elections.

But it would be naive on part of the PPP, the PML-N or Maulana to undermine the rising popularity of Imran Khan particularly from 2008 to 2018. His popularity graph started picking up after PTI’s grand public meeting on October 30, 2011.

But it is also true that till 2011, the PTI was a party which has challenged the traditional style of politics and ‘status quo’. It was only prior to 2013 elections that IK’s ‘advisers’ asked him to accept ‘electables’ from other parties who were willing to join the party. His confidence level at present is high despite developments prior to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘Azadi March’, government’s strong allies like the PML-Q, MQM-P, GDA and BNP (Mengal) public criticism on government policies and handling of Nawaz Sharif’s case. He lauded the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and reportedly said he has never seen such a ‘democratic General’ in his life.

Government Thursday dispelled all speculations and PM House issued a notification in this regard for appointment of Lt Gen Nadeem Raza as chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and interestingly also clarified that the notification of the army chief’s extension had already been issued on August 19.

Imran while praising Gen Bajwa said, “Within three month after I took office as prime minister, I decided that Gen Bajwa would remain the army chief,” he stated. Imran Khan in his cricketing days never wanted to be a politician till 1993 and in early 80s had turned down Gen Zia’s offer to become sports minister. It was in 1993, when for the first time the former ISI chief Lt Gen Hameed Gul started working on group of ‘non-political people’, with a clean record.

Imran Khan has come a long way to defeat his arch political rivals like Sharifs, Bhuttos/Zardari and now Maulana. After joining politics and launching Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in 1996, he got few setbacks because of political immaturity.

After Gen Pervez Musharraf took over power, Imran decided to support him after he assured him of ousting both Nawaz Sharif and Bhuttos. He not only supported Musharraf’s referendum in 2001 but also wanted the PTI to be recognised as ‘King’s Party’.

Musharraf disappointed him as he wanted Chaudhrys to counter Sharifs. Thus in 2002 after general elections, Imran Khan parted ways with the former president and broke the undeclared alliance with him.

Imran bagged only one seat in 2002 elections. It was party’s second defeat since 1997 elections. In 2008 elections, the PTI boycotted the polls along with Jamaat-e-Islami, but got prominence because of its role in the lawyers’ movement. He emerged as the key Opposition leader due to ‘friendly Opposition’ relationship between the PPP and the PML-N.

Imran and PTI’s first big success was in 2013, when his party surprised many and swept polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and five years later in 2018, created history when it retained its position in 2018. The dilemma of our politics is that even the Opposition looked towards Umpire, and if he is a ‘selected prime minister’, then the role played by the Opposition within Senate or in Balochistan certainly helped Imran in forming the government without serious challenge. Umpire has declared him ‘not out’, something which gave him extra confidence, which he was looking for. Despite three back-to-back elections under civilian rule no prime minister has yet completed his term. Can Imran create such a record; his tenure will end in July 2023. It is still a long way to go.

The question civilian supremacy still has an unresolved question and it can’t be possible unless we have ‘neutral umpires’ and even playing conditions. It is still a long way to go.

There is never a dull moment in Pakistan and conspiracy theories refuse to die when it comes to politics.

We are still not politically matured enough to accept this hard fact that it is time to remove the government in elections on the basis of performance and not with the help of umpire.