Imran Khan, described by many as the enfant terrible of Pakistani politics, seems to have misjudged the potential of his charm
uring a recent interaction with students at an Islamabad university, a question was posed as to why Pakistan was sliding head first to a nadir despite being a nuclear power. Almost everybody in attendance laughed out loud when it was pointed out that countries and societies can descend to lows only from relative highs – even zenith – where they might have reached earlier by dint of hard work and ingenuity.
Some retired soldiers and their supporting acts have openly claimed credit in nationally televised talk shows for creating and nurturing such politicians. Some of these “creations” were in turn installed at the highest offices. They list Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan among such experiments. The same men were dealt severe blows when the honeymoon period between the selector and the select was over. Bhutto was removed and hanged. Sharif was exiled.
Imran Khan and his administration were given a carte blanche by the establishment to run the government as he wished following a highly questionable electoral victory in 2018. The opposition’s efforts to hobble the PTI-led government were hampered by overt and covert support from the generals, the judges, the accountability mechanism and the bureaucracy. Political opponents of note were either forced into exile or pilloried in courts to face corruption charges. A venomous ‘accountability’ process was instituted to demonise and demoralise political opponents who had polled over 65 percent of the votes.
Many describe Imran Khan as the enfant terrible of Pakistani politics; the master employer of adoration or vilification of his factual or fictional benefactors, a conjurer par excellence of U-turns. But he apparently misjudged the potency of his charm against the prowess of those who had placed him on the throne in the first place. Once ensconced in the prime minister’s office, Khan started behaving like a faux Roman ruler. His cabinet had few hardcore PTI members. Most, in fact, were the ‘electables’ presented to him on a silver platter. Word soon started spreading of wrongdoing, corruption, misgovernance and misrule.
Somewhere in the late summer of 2021, Imran crossed swords with the general who had earnestly guarded his weak government through the same-page policy. The issue of the reassignment of the then head of the principal intelligence agency is often cited as the first rupture between the prime minister and the chief of army staff. It may not have been as simple as that. Transfers of a numbers of top military commanders were gridlocked by the prime minister’s ‘indecision’. The situation was not appreciated by the army chief who must have felt the heat being generated in his institution. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be argued that slaying the dragon might have been difficult, but was not impossible.
Imran must be cognizant of the fact that many in his party are not willing to go down a suicidal course as long as they are enjoying the perks and privileges that flow from the provincial governments.
By March 2022, the PTI government had lost the confidence of the establishment. Emboldened by the situation, the opposition put into practice the plan they had been working on for many months. By April it was all over at the federal level. Imran had been handed over almost all of Pakistan barring Sindh. Three years and eight months later, he lost the Centre and Balochistan. The Punjab is in dire straits. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is numb. Azad Kashmir is administratively paralysed and Gilgit-Baltistan remains confused about its political status.
Frustrated by the impending political avalanche, Imran embarked on doing what he does best – concoct tales that he can’t corroborate. His stories – fanned by favourable media outlets and social media platforms – are bought by avid followers as gospel truth. In his desperation to hang on to power, he came up with interesting stories – blaming the United States for conspiring to change his regime. When that didn’t work, he started shooting straight at the heads of the establishment. The pitch was raised so much that many feared the cauldron might boil over.
Since April, his attempts to force early elections have faltered. He has been shot and injured during one of the public rallies. His political team is nervous and seeking revival of relations with the establishment that has undergone a change of command. He has been advised by party colleagues not to push for dissolution of provincial assemblies where PTI is still ruling – independently or in coalition. His verbal tirade is dissipating. Legal challenges are on the horizon; even in certain cases deemed shut and forgotten.
The rival political forces – now in government – are seemingly gaining confidence by throwing a root and attempting to fix the economy and wooing those willing to leave the PTI. Imran is nursing physical wounds that are taking longer to heal than expected earlier. With the political centre stage shifted to the Punjab, Imran seems tamed. He must be cognizant of the fact that many in his party are not willing to go down a suicidal course as long as they are enjoying the perks and privileges flowing from the provincial governments. The assemblies will only be dissolved if Imran forces the two CMs to do so because he remains the only person of any political worth. Others are beneficiaries of his presence in the ring. For now, the only viable course left for Imran Khan is to keep faith in his political following among the younger Pakistanis, reorganise broken party ranks, get rid of the erstwhile ‘electables’ and plan for the next general elections.
The writer works for the Jang/ Geo Group. He tweets @aamirghauri