Tuesday August 16, 2022

Democratic disorder

April 21, 2022

On day four of leaving the PM’s Office, Imran Khan was working a massive rally of his supporters in Peshawar, riling them up against America and its “puppets” in Islamabad, like he had done over ten years earlier during his dharna on G T Road against Nato supplies to Afghanistan. With a notable difference of having been at the helm of affairs for three and half years and proving one more time the adage that no premier of Pakistan has completed his/her term.

Of course, Mr Khan who had promised to play till the last ball showed what a bad loser he was, by abandoning the ground along his team after the neutral umpires opted for a super over. He also threatened to disrupt the following match unless it was played according to his terms. The other teams made some tactical moves to convey to Imran that he was not playing cricket but some extra-terrestrial game.

The inevitable ensued at the stroke of midnight between Saturday and Sunday with the adoption of a no-confidence motion against the prime minister. The denouement was gripping as the anti-Imran alliance held together in the face of delaying tactics of the PTI, perhaps in a play of mind games promised by the outgoing premier after the motion was filed. PTI MNAs resigned en masse, further complicating a cut- throat duel.

Though out of office in the centre, the PTI resorted to mass mobilization by announcing rallies in Peshawar, followed by Karachi and Lahore. It has no intention of leaving in peace the new ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N. More so when he is ruling with a razor thin majority in the house.

I have met Imran Khan only once when a friend in the PTI introduced me to him at a charity event several years ago. In a monologue lasting for about ten minutes, I was left with a disturbing impression that he had all the answers without having held public office for a single day. Wow!

Later he followed up with the fantastic claim that he could fix Pakistan’s ailing economy in 90 days. Prior to the 2018 election leading to his victory, Imran promised ten million jobs and five million homes if he came to power. A charismatic persona with strong convictions, Khan gradually built mass popularity in the large urban centres of the country.

But all that was not sufficient to win a majority in a large country of over 200 million people. A large number of electables with different party affiliations were lured to the rising star, making the PTI the largest party in the assembly. That still was not enough to claim a working majority. That is where Khan was enabled to win over smaller parties as coalition partners to finally become the prime minister of Pakistan.

The opposition countered the change by naming Imran as selected and the facilitators as selectors. Some others began calling the new setup as a hybrid regime powered by civilian and military players. Being on ‘one page’ was another common expression about the relations between the Imran-led coalition and the establishment.

Not having spent a day in public office before becoming prime minister turned out to be a major handicap. Kaptaan tried to cover this flaw with rhetoric and over-projection. It was basically the same speech that he had delivered while campaigning, there was nothing new to go with his role as premier of over 200 million people beset with dire internal and external challenges.

Imran seemed to believe that with sincerity of purpose and integrity of character, things would work out. He could not comprehend the fragile state of finances, notably the growing deficit in balance of payments. His reaction was to arrange loans and deposits from friendly states – but eventually he had to replace the finance minister and resort to an IMF package.

The overall performance of the PTI’s three years in office was not bad and its handling of the Covid situation received praise within the country and from international partners. Imran Khan faced no imminent threat to his tenuous coalition, despite bitterness with the vital coalition partners. It was his temptation to gain more power that would lead to palpable friction in the erstwhile smoothly operating hybrid system.

Khan gradually proved the rule that the occupant of the sublime mansion at the foot of Margallas sooner or later succumbs to a power struggle with those in the colonial buildings twenty kilometres away. And the general impression that, once begun, Rawalpindi wins the tug of war.

The ending of the high voltage encounter, however, was different this time around. The 111 Brigade did not move. The assembly session went on with interruptions with the speaker visiting the prime ministerial mansion, the honourable judges reaching their chambers late in the evening, the opposition alliance scurrying to ensure 172 members’ presence.

For the first time in Pakistan’s 74 years of existence, a premier was removed through a vote of no-confidence and his successor elected and sworn within 48 hours. Another chapter of history began with the ousted premier promising to ‘see you’ soon. Phew!

Democracy comes of age? Absolutely not! President Alvi in Islamabad and governor Cheema in Lahore are obstructing the smooth working of the Shehbaz Sharif government, already beset with inner convulsions. Saner elements are perturbed over the outgoing premier’s confrontational stance that threatens to bring an end to the democratic disorder if better sense does not prevail.

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