Who has benefitted from the events over the past 13 months?
hat Pakistan in almost perennially passing through a “delicate” phase or perilously poised at a “crossroads” is no hyperbole. Those hanging on to power and those wantonly seeking to replace them breathe the same mantra daily.
On April 10, 2022, Imran Khan lost power through an unprecedented vote of no-confidence in the parliament. He was accused of spending less time and energy delivering on the promises he had made to the people and wasting more on victimising political opponents. Other charges heaped at his door related to the destruction of a feeble economy and wilful suppression of dissent and freedom of expression.
Mindful of the fact that Khan’s rent-a-crowd administration was cobbled together by a powerful establishment, the opposition – a motley crew of vested interests – grudgingly went through pre-court proceedings facing the “factual or fictional” accusations of corruption as destiny. While a mind-numbing media trial of leading political opponents continued for well over three years, not a single case actually proceeded to the courts for a gainful conviction following a credible prosecution.
The theatrics of governance were apparently going Khan’s way when in the summer of 2021 he imprudently rammed his rattling cart into the mighty oak called the establishment. He miserably failed to fathom the complexity of the maze laid out to his advantage by the generals. He unnecessarily locked horns with his army chief. Sensing that the stag was caught in the snare beyond any chance of recovery, the opponents reached an agreement to bring him down through parliamentary procedure. The rest is history.
The last thirteen months have been the story of a silent upheaval. While news headlines have frequently predicted an impending calamity, the wobbly wagon of the government has been trudging along. Who would have thought in 2017, when Nawaz Sharif was pushed out, that he would once again pick a military chief?
It is an open secret in the capital that the jubilant opposition leaders were cognisant of the fact that their success had materialised because Gen Bajwa walked away from Imran Khan and that Gen Faiz Hameed was effectively neutralised. The PDM coalition could have melted away within weeks because Shahbaz Sharif realised that his elder brother was not happy with the arrangement. There was a sobering sense in his party that the pressure emanating from the “allies” for the spoils and the economy would tear away whatever political capital the PML-N was left with. Grapevine suggests he was “not allowed” to throw in the towel.
The past year has been a tale of frustrations. From the biblical showers in Balochistan and Sindh to incessant judicial activism; from rejuvenated terrorist activities to an unprecedently haughty IMF; from promised financial rescue by “friendly” countries to failing industrial and agricultural production; from combustible local politics to the unforgiving neighbourhood – everything seemed to have lined up to test the nerves of the riders of a limping steed.
And then May 9 happened. Just as Imran Khan had been using the National Accountability Bureau to humiliate political opponents, the coalition government decided to maul the former cricketer by making him run between courts in Lahore and Islamabad to face corruption charges. Force-fed on the “sadiq” and “ameen” carte du jour, Imran and his followers had other plans. Flanked and advised by ambitious advocates, the former prime minister refused to acknowledge court calls or NAB notices. When the administration finally decided to seize him, all hell broke loose. Some of Imran Khan’s supporters attacked several military buildings and monuments. Horrifying images of loot and arson were immediately available throughout the world.
Pakistan’s political folklore suggests that the military is too hard to beat on account of its discipline. Garrison gossip claims that the military commanders saved the day for the institution. Apparently, the affection for Imran Khan among the military families has been seriously hit. This will also have long-term consequences for the leading political forces in the country.
Imran Khan and his party are in for a tough ride for what happened on May 9. The PTI leader and his spouse are to face corruption cases brought by the NAB and his party is fraying at a frightening pace. With front-liners like Fawad Chaudhry, Shireen Mazari and Aamir Kiyani leading the deserters, dozens are reportedly packing up to jump the ship. The only remaining hope is that his millions of ardent followers blindly following the skipper shall remain loyal. There is a growing fear of what might happen to the party if Imran Khan is disqualified for public office.
The PML-N looks like another loser in the game. Many of its ministers are struggling to make sense of their tasks. Some of them privately bicker that they have been assigned ministries where performance is tough and probability of attracting public wrath high. Nawaz Sharif’s return appears to be mere fiction. He may stay on in London for now. His absence suits the establishment as well and his brother, the prime minister.
The PPP and the JUI-F come across as the real beneficiaries of Imran Khan’s fall. They have secured the best ministerial portfolios. Bilawal Bhutto is gaining global traction as foreign minister and will be personally known to world leaders by the time he makes a dash for the prime minister’s office. Sherry Rehman is enjoying the climate change portfolio. Come next elections, the PPP is likely to dent the PML-N as well as the PTI. With likely wins in Sindh, Balochistan, the KP and the Punjab, the PPP will justifiably claim the mantle of a federal party.
The real winner is once again the establishment. The PTI is withering fast. Imran Khan may still be the most popular leader but the same can no longer be said about his party. Chances of Nawaz Sharif’s return are slim. The establishment would like Shahbaz to continue and not only keep Nawaz away but also ensure that Maryam, the firebrand, stays out of the race. With Nawaz and Imran out of the race, the establishment has apparently reclaimed the political space that was created by the two Punjabi leaders. There is a real possibility of the establishment picking up a partner from a “smaller” province and ask politicians from the Punjab to work with him so that all live happily ever after.
The writer works for the Jang/ Geo Group. He tweets @aamirghauri