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Imran Khan’s political future

The noose of political annihilation appears to be tightening around the neck of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Considering the exposure of the party’s foreign (prohibited) funding by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) (after eight years!), the Toshakhana shenanigans, Shahbaz Gill’s statement encouraging mutiny in the armed forces, and the increasingly shrill, frustrated escalation of statements damaging to the PTI as a whole and Imran Khan personally, this outcome looms increasingly large.

Imran Khan started his campaign to be restored to power by both criticising and wooing (sometimes in the same breath) the establishment. His evident growing frustration is an indication that his overtures are not yielding positive results and his castigation is deepening the gulf that opened up between him and his erstwhile ‘selectors’ in 2021 over the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief affair to begin with.

And yet both in the ruling coalition’s ranks as well as the establishment, there appears to be so far an inexplicable hesitation to take the final step/s to knock out Imran Khan politically. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led coalition seems divided on the issue. The by now well-known differences within the PML-N between party head Nawaz Sharif and his brother and present Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif over the no-confidence move against Imran Khan’s government (brought to power, it needs to be remembered, in a controversial if not rigged general election in 2018) have produced a perception gap between London and Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif continues to hold to his view that the move was a mistake, since it cast the incompetent, proto-fascist PTI in a kindlier light as a ‘victim’, while landing the PML-N-led succeeding government with the debris of the PTI government’s economic, political and social mess.

The PML-N coalition government, despite its best efforts, has failed to match the rhetoric of Imran Khan, at least in the public’s perception. But despite the size of the PTI’s public rallies, it is open to question whether this represents the hardcore urban middle and upper-middle class base of the party exclusively or is a sign of expansion of support. Maryam Nawaz’s ‘heroic’ attempts to virtually single-handedly compete with PML-N rallies have turned out to be an unequal and exhausting quest.

The ruling coalition is divided on the issue of arresting Imran Khan. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is against it (for fear of it boosting Imran Khan’s political status) while Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman seems undecided, to name the two major components of the ruling coalition apart from the PML-N. All coalition partners seem apprehensive to a greater or lesser degree that even a lawful action against Imran Khan may blow up in their faces in the event of a political resistance mobilisation by the PTI against the arrest of their leader.

The establishment harbours its own reservations on the issue, not the least because of the alleged support for Imran Khan within the ranks of serving and retired military officers. Although Imran Khan belligerently attacked the so-called ‘neutrals’, federal police high-ups and the female magistrate who granted Shahbaz Gill’s physical remand, he could not be arrested under terrorism charges because he stayed incognito and managed his pre-arrest bail. This shows the privileged, kid gloves treatment being meted out to the former PM, something few others in Pakistan could even dream of.

In this political fray and confrontation, the Centre (under the ruling coalition) is pitted against two provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) (held now by the PTI and allies). Questions of jurisdiction, relative powers, etc., have emerged between the two sides of this troubling coin. This tug of war between the Centre and two major provinces has troubling connotations for the federation, now and in times to come, because of the bad precedent on display these days. Leaders of one side escape to Punjab or KP to avoid arrest by the Central government and its law enforcement machinery, while leaders of the other side abandon Punjab for Islamabad on the same consideration. So much for the rule of law, a long time threatened species in Pakistan.

It is mind-boggling to consider that Imran Khan, Shahbaz Gill and sundry other PTI loudmouths consider themselves so far above the law that they think they can incite mutiny and threaten the establishment and judiciary without suffering the adverse consequences even the blind can see. The hesitation of the federal government and powerful establishment alluded to above may have reinforced this sense of undue entitlement within the PTI. In our history, people have been hung out to dry, and worse, for far less. How long this kid glove treatment will continue is a question only the powers-that-be are in a position to answer.

For the people of Pakistan, faced with the unenviable choice between a proto-fascist party (PTI) and the old guard parties (PML-N, PPP, JUI-F, et al), all of whom have by now been tried and tested and none of whom has evidenced any genuine concern for the plight of the poor, marginalised and deprived, the logic of moving beyond this paradigm in which they appear to be trapped seems unassailable. However, the reality of the difficulties and obstacles in the path of this desired development are nothing less than daunting. That is precisely why greater effort and strategic cohesion is required from the progressive, genuinely democratic political forces in the country to offer a more hopeful future than the current choice between the lesser of two evils (the ruling coalition) and an unmitigated disaster (PTI).

Rashed Rahman, "Imran Khan’s political future," Business recorder. 2022-08-23.
Keywords: Political sciences , Foreign funding , Political annihilation , Federal police , Establishment , Imran Khan , Shahbaz Gill , Nawaz Sharif , Shehbaz Sharif , Asif Ali Zardari , Maulana Fazlur Rehman , ECP , PTI , PMLN , ISI , PPP

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