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Electables go where the wind blows

Article Republished By Javier Troconis

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has managed to convince the staunchest of his followers that he was indeed removed from office through an elaborate plot, planned and successfully executed by the USA, using all major opposition parties in Pakistan.

Apart from those who believe that the former PM can do or say no wrong (the cultish types) there is also a large anti-US presence in the country as well (the ‘death to America’ types) who have eaten up the foreign conspiracy narrative.

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There is still the rational lot that is able to see through the smoke and think beyond the ‘cypher’ nonsense, refer to history and understand that what has happened to Khan isn’t new and has been the fate of many prime ministers before him; an abrupt and unceremonious end to their tenure as soon as relations with the establishment turn sour.

Khan has admitted he had been made aware of the joint opposition’s plan to oust him back in July 2021 and therefore wanted to retain then DG ISI Gen Faiz Hameed to help through the political turbulence that such a move would bring. He proceeded to define the ISI chief’s role as “the eyes and ears of the government.”

Leadership on both sides is correctly stating that elections are the only way to end the constitutional political crisis. However, that may only solve certain short-term problems. Unfortunately, the hatred and intolerance that has filled the hearts and minds of voters and supporters on both sides will take much longer to address and remove. 

This was the primary reason why Khan created an impasse in October of last year when General Faiz was being transferred to Peshawar as Corps Commander. Speaking during a meeting with journalists where I was also present, Khan divulged that a rule for the minimum time period a general had to command a corps to qualify for the position of COAS was changed during this time as well, increased from six months to one year. This meant that Gen Faiz had to go to Peshawar immediately.

Imran Khan is currently trying to peddle two contradictory narratives simultaneously. One, which he is able to do much more freely, is that this is a US-backed regime change. The other, where he has to use his words cautiously, is that he lost the support of the establishment and consequently the allies that made up his thin majority. “Only animals are neutral”, is an example of this indirect messaging.

Seasoned politicians, the ‘electables’, have a knack of sensing which way the wind is blowing. Once the establishment became ‘neutral’, there was no longer any compulsion to stick with the PTI’s sinking ship and the rest is now history. Fawad Chaudhry, the PTI’s former information minister, conceding on live television that had their relations with the establishment been better, they would still be in power, is a testament to where the PTI really drew its power from.

The three jalsas that followed soon after his exit were well-attended, indicating towards a resurgence in his popularity that was undeniably at its lowest during the last months of the PTI government. Whether or not this reinvigorated support base translates into similar numbers at the polls, only elections can tell. Khan sure seems to think that is the case, demanding fresh elections be held at the earliest.

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However, the new coalition government led by the PML(N) and PPP has no plans to go into elections this year before November when the current COAS is set to retire, or perhaps even until fresh elections are due. After a very shaky start that saw significant problems in forming a federal cabinet, finally some stability seems to have been managed, at least for the time being. This is also why voices from within the PML(N) calling for early elections in the initial days of this government, such as Khawaja Asif, are now silent.

That is not to say that the new regime doesn’t still face serious challenges. There is the economy which will only respond positively to measures that are long-term, for which there is not enough time. In the meanwhile, it will mostly be firefighting and somehow managing the political fallout of the imminent unpopular inflationary decisions such as the petrol price hike that the IMF is expecting before any more tranches of much-needed dollars are released.

A lot of mending is required on the foreign policy front, especially with regards to the USA. Imran’s ‘conspiracy’ charges notwithstanding, Pakistan’s recent closeness to Putin and increasing dependence on China are sticking points.

Newly sworn-in Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto has been invited by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the global food security summit at the UN in New York with the possibility of a one-on-one meeting as well. How he manages to begin repairing ties with the USA while not alienating other important allies such as China will be a tough tightrope walk that will test his diplomatic chops.

Imran gearing up for a long march at the end of the month however should have the government worried, not because it might turn into something similar to the 2014 dharna, but because of the political and social climate within which it will take place. Polarisation has reached unsustainable levels in the wake of the recent change of government and with neither side willing to tone down the rhetoric, a worrying level of unpredictability has set in.

The Masjid-e-Nabwi incident and the government’s FIR under the blasphemy law against 150 members of the PTI are both equally condemnable. The incident in Medina was a symptom of Imran and his party’s relentless barrage of abuse and allegations against his opponents. Charges brought against them by the government is a dangerous use of a law that has led to unspeakable atrocities against innocent persons in the past.

Leadership on both sides is correctly stating that elections are the only way to end the constitutional political crisis. However, that may only solve certain short-term problems. Unfortunately, the hatred and intolerance that has filled the hearts and minds of voters and supporters on both sides will take much longer to address and remove.

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