Sunday October 24, 2021

PM Imran’s pre-election strategy

October 15, 2021

Those who know Prime Minister Imran Khan from the cricketing days also know that after he became the captain he mostly ignored the list of players selected by the ‘selectors’ and often picked his own team.

He has always been of the view that as skipper he is responsible for both victory and defeat in the match. He joined politics in 1996 and tried to apply the same principle here too before he was advised by some of his closest aides that politics is not cricket but a game of opportunities.

Today, his government perhaps is facing the biggest challenge which was faced by his predecessors as well and that too at a time when most of his plans are linked to the next general elections and the strategy to win.

For the last couple of months, the government has taken measures which have more to do with the future elections rather than major reforms, and as a result is facing a tough situation and challenges. With his government under Supreme Court’s directive bound to hold local bodies elections by March next year, the party is divided as some of its leaders believe that they could face stiff challenge in Punjab where despite all the ‘tactics’ they could not succeed in bringing major cracks in arch rival Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

‘Whether Prime Minister agrees with us or not, the fact remains that the Buzdar factor is hurting the party now and it would be really tough for us if we took the risk of holding LB polls. The best time was in 2019. Now it’s too late,’ one of Imran’s closest aides told me on condition of anonymity.

Whether it is the issue of Electronic Vote Machine (EVM), question of giving voting right to overseas Pakistanis (which Imran believes and not all that wrong too that majority would vote for him), tussle with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), holding population census before polls and even the recent NAB Ordinance all apparently part of Elections-2023 strategy.

He simply cannot afford early polls for two reasons. One, his government is getting unpopular due to massive price hikes which are so far uncontrollable and secondly, he has yet to enforce any major reforms which he had promised and thirdly, his failure on the ‘accountability front.’

One thing on which his government till recently been given the credit was his handling ‘civil-military’ relationship. A situation was averted last year on the question of giving or not giving ‘extension’ to the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and for the first time the matter went up to the Supreme Court. In the end, the parliament resolved the issue with the support of the Opposition.

So, one was expecting that a better sense would prevail when the issue of new posting and transfer came up during numerous meetings between the PM and the Army Chief. The key of course was the appointment of the new head of Pakistan’s most powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed had completed his two-year term and the Chief wanted his transfer as Corp Commander along with some other changes in the top military hierarchy. And apparently after talks between PM and COAS, a press release was issued by the ISPR on Oct 6 in regard to new transfer and posting, including Lt-Gen Faiz as Corp Commander Peshawar and Karachi’s Corp Commander Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmad Anjum as the new ISI DG.

If it was the result of any 'misunderstanding', it was ‘huge misunderstanding’ as it resulted in the issuance of the PR.

But instead of sorting out the issue within hours or day or two, the Prime Minister House delayed the matter for the whole week which led to the expected speculation on the social media. On Oct 12, the government itself brought the issue in public with a clear ‘dissent’ on the press release even though they underplayed it by saying it’s a ‘procedural issue.’ Federal ministers too joined the debate with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry as expected played the leading role and tried to underplay the issue but his own colleague and MNA Aamir Dogar disclosed that PM wanted Lt-Gen Faiz continued for a few more months as ISI chief, apparently because of developments in Afghanistan.

Now the news report filed by senior journalist Ansar Abbasi that the Prime Minister would first interview the three Generals whose names GHQ would send may further add to the already uneasy situation.

What happened in the last two weeks or to be precise since Oct 6, certainly did not go well as far as government or the Prime Minister’s future political strategy is concerned. The man who otherwise is most vocal in defending Prime Minister Imran Khan who kept silence or avoided any questions on this matter was none other than Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad while the most relevant Minister of Defence Pervez Khattak sources said remained busy in getting Balochistan issue resolved after a no-confidence move against Chief Minister Jam Kamal.

Prime Minister Imran Khan knows that the next elections would not be easy for him for different political and non-political reasons. In 2018, he and his party were un-tested and could be given credit for bringing many new voters to the polling stations. But, even in those elections his party emerged as the single largest still short of forming the government at the Center. In Punjab, they were few seats short and PML-N retained as single largest party though PTI gained a lot as compared to 2013.

Imran knows that without the support of PML-Q, Janobi Punjab Mahaz, MQM-Pakistan, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), he would not have been able to form the government and he also knows how and why they supported him and the PTI.

There will be no Jahangir Tareen with him this time unless something dramatic happens. He also knows more than anyone else about the politics of PML-Q.

It’s a situation like in the 1992 World Cup when just ‘half point’ put Pakistan in the semi-final and the team led by Imran never looked back.

So, instead of looking for means to get the second term in power, whether in 2023 scheduled elections or a bid early, he should just try to regain people’s confidence and go into the next polls with ‘fair play.’ He rightly takes the credit of introducing ‘neutral umpires’ in cricket and should try to maintain the same spirit in the politics as well irrespective of the result.

The writer is a columnist and analyst of Geo, Jang and The News.