Saturday July 13, 2024

The political crisis

By Muhammad Abdul Basit
April 13, 2022

After much melodrama, Khan has left the Prime Minister’s Office. They come, enjoy the moments, curse the critics, use power against the opposition, and finally go they must before their time.

The incoming one comes with a fallacy that they would be different – only to end up with the same fate that their predecessors go through — again and again; no lesson learnt, no shame felt. No prime minister has ever been able to complete the term in office. From 1947 to 1958, Pakistan saw seven prime ministers and eight cabinets.

Up until the ‘same page’ remained intact, Khan seemed to be different. There were hopes that he would alter the course of history and become the first prime minister to complete his term. But a supposedly democratic PM couldn’t resist himself from dissolving the assemblies when his defeat became most probable. He went to the extreme, considered the constitution to be merely a piece of paper to be broken and thrown into the dust bin, not realizing that democracy has strengthened in Pakistan since 2008 — despite all odds. What he assumed would be a fatal blow to the opposition turned out to be just his unfortunate treacherous act against the constitution.

To secure his own position, he did everything he could. The trump card couldn’t do any wonders. Blaming the opposition could not fill the empty bellies of a large population. Continuously invoking religion did not turn Pakistan into a Riyasat-e-Madinah. Narcissism and hero-worshipping could not keep inspiring the majority. Declaring critics as traitors could not scapegoat the government’s inefficiencies. The mantra of neutrality rose up and the consequences were felt within a short period of time.

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory”, wrote Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Vietnamese American novelist. Khan made the political power tussle a crusade between right and wrong, a battle of Amar bil Maarof versus Nahi anil Munkar, a war between patriots who love a certain party and traitors who oppose it. Politics can be anything but binary thinking.

When the dust settles and memories are written of this political combat, Khan is likely to be seen as one who has, sadly, left a legacy of sheer incompetency, blatant lies, blame game and polluting the political culture with neverending toxicity while using state resources to portray his positive self-image. Nothing of which has worked, however. Doing so, Imran Khan has reinforced a dangerous precedent with a much higher magnitude. It is yet to see how the new government will use its power against the outgoing prime minister and his associates. After all, Khan’s closest aides are/were birds who had flown from here and there for the time he was in power. Loyalties shouldn’t be expected to remain for long, especially from those who remain a part of every government. The PTI is likely to disentangle, but Khan’s individual popularity will increase nonetheless in the aftermath.

Being a populist, Khan has played his cards well. He has tried to imitate Bhutto. In the United Nations Session, on the question of Kashmir on December 15, 1971, the then foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto expressed his frustration over Great Britain and France on their constant vetoes, and said, “There is no such animal as a neutral animal. You take positions. In that respect we admire the Soviet Union; it took a position, a wrong position, but it took a position.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan made a similar analogy, only in a different context and for a different entity. As prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had sought an independent foreign policy, and effectively tried to mobilize the Muslim world that arguably enraged the United States in the wake of the Arab oil embargo. Now, Khan has tried to make himself seem like Bhutto, but without any rationale. This was being done not to achieve any foreign policy goals, rather to appease the domestic population by raising anti-US slogans.

Khan has called out the Western world for dictating to Pakistan and he has tried to portray himself as the only one who has the courage to say “Absolutely Not” and “Not Slaves” in its face. He has tried to shift the popular discourse in the country from inflation and economic woes to foreign interference. A letter of such magnitude, if true, should otherwise have moved national security with as much magnitude as the Balakot dogfight. Instead, it was waved as a trump card by the prime minister. Khan was building a narrative on anti-US emotions for his own benefit. And surprisingly that has worked well, at least to energize his supporters once again now.

Foreign policy affects the state; building it on popular narratives by any government to achieve its own goals hurts the state in the longer run. Ironically, Khan forgot that, or he outright ignored the intensity of the matter. Foreign policy under Imran Khan was lately being devised not on rationale but to appease those voters that still had hopes from the PTI. The result is right in front of us. The self-applause, polished with beautiful words and propaganda, have made certain people assume the success of Pakistan in the international arena while the reality is otherwise.

Now that Khan is out, the challenges for the new government are great. First, domestic problems involving inflation, unemployment and poverty. Second, security matters regarding terrorism and radicalization. And finally, foreign policy matters will be difficult to manage. Additionally, all eyes would be on the upcoming general elections for which a new political tussle will start. It is yet to be seen whether the two mainstream parties, the PML-N and the PPP, will resort to the same ways their opponent the PTI used, or if they will show some maturity. If they start political victimization and use religion against Khan using state resources, like Khan himself did against the opposition, there may be unpleasant outcomes.

The writer is a political scientist with a focus on international relations and sociopolitical issues.