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Monday April 22, 2024

Imran ratchets up rants

Imran Khan has intensified his campaign of targeting the establishment

By Jan Achakzai
August 29, 2022
PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses a rally in Islamabad. -AFP/File
PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses a rally in Islamabad. -AFP/File

Instead of changing the course to avoid collision, former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan has intensified his campaign of targeting the establishment. His upward ratchet in rhetoric is at a level that he has now turned every public meeting into a nearly anti-establishment rally. He openly calls names from Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq to Mr X and Mr Y.

His personality type suggests he does not believe in reconciliation and coexistence with other political forces and power centres. He declared all political opponents as corrupt to be banished from the political arena through any foul means. He never engaged the opposition when he was prime minister and used NAB and other institutions under his thumb to witch hunt opposition members only.

So is his tussle with the establishment. He unleashed a systematic social media campaign to undermine the military leadership and attempted to drive a wedge between the masses and the Army.

The last damage done was his induced statement by Chief of Staff Shahbaz Gill who openly asked for mutiny within the armed forces. He urged the junior rank and file not to obey the orders of top leadership on a national television channel. This does not fall within the ambit of free speech as Imran Khan, the PTI and some journalists portray it.

It was a criminal offense punishable by the death penalty under the Army Act. The freedom of expression’s limits is clearly defined in Article 19 of the Constitution. It is now beyond any doubt Imran Khan has become another post-Panama Nawaz Sharif. But, Nawaz Sharif’s political temperament and wisdom are fundamentally different.

He understands that he cannot wipe out political opponents as Pakistan’s diverse population does not choose one party. Various pockets of voters across Pakistan will make sure Pakistan’s democracy will have representation of over dozens of parties. So, he allows space when in power or in opposition.

Secondly, Shehbaz Sharif always keeps bridges and pedals a softer narrative not to sink the entire political boat of the party i.e. PMLN. Shebaz Sharif would eventually pave the way for the PMLN and Nawaz Sharif to work with other power centres.

So far, Imran Khan is facing over two dozen cases from ECP, police FIRs to contempt hearing at Islamabad High Court. His claim of being a popular leader does not grant him automatic immunity from his legal woes.

For example, Nawaz Sharif at one point was a very popular PM but was disqualified on the charge of not receiving a salary from his son’s company. The bottom line is: He will not emerge unscathed from his legal battle despite his claim to be the most popular leader.

Even his popularity claim is in large part a myth: he may enjoy some popularity in the middle and upper middle classes. Nevertheless, the overwhelming poorer segments of the population support the PMLN, PPP, religious parties like TLP, JUIF and ethnic parties like ANP.

As far as his recent win in Punjab’s by-elections is concerned, here again percentage-wise, the PMLN has increased its vote bank (as per the FAFEN report) and the PTI lost its own five seats, aside from the PMLN’s misjudgment of candidates’ selection.

In conclusion, Imran Khan has become post-Panama Nawaz Sharif and his tussle with the establishment has badly gone off track. And worse, no Shehbaz Sharif-like figure in the PTI fold for bridge-building makes his relations one-directional, e.g, going south.

Thus, the rupture in relations is now permanent and beyond repair. This clarity seems to have sunken in on both sides. By implication, he will unlikely to salvage his political fortune, but his bid will likely cause heavy costs to the federation and the country.

The only option now is how to politically contain him with minimum loss to the federation and the country.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst and a politician from Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai)