Is Imran’s defiance, growing popularity making Pak establishment desperate?
Army could be contemplating radical new power-sharing formulas to stem Khan’s growing popularity - and will he accept it?
Could it be possible that the Pakistan Army is desperate to find a solution to the ongoing constitutional crisis in the country, given that Imran Khan has not given in an inch on his demands and has been successful in exerting pressure by mobilizing strong ground support against the ruling party thereby challenging the command of the Pakistan establishment?
In the past few weeks, a series of orchestrated cautionary notes have been released for public consumption by some of the leading Pakistani politicians, think-tanks through media leaks and media interactions to suggest there is a possibility of martial law in the country if the current political situation is not addressed. It is a known fact that the public political commentary in Pakistan is managed by its establishment. Thus, the recent spurt in warnings and cautions issued by various stakeholders probably has the Army’s backing. So, the question is, what is bothering Rawalpindi?
Feeling the Heat
Since his removal in April 2022, the former Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has become highly opinionated, belligerent, and popular. Imran also played his cards tactfully to polarise the nation, with some of his rivals saying he holds sway over the judiciary.
Khan has used nationwide protests and critique as a scourge to punish his political opponents and the Army. He has targeted the army and accused it of weakening independent institutions. And he occasionally named politicians and military generals for his ousting.
Imran is propagating a merit-based system across all institutions, including the army, to strengthen his country - this is a direct challenge to the authority of the Pak establishment.
Recently, Imran Khan was positively rated, with 61 per cent of Pakistanis having a good opinion about him, in a Nationally Representative survey conducted in February 2023 by Gallup Pakistan, a 40 years old research organization located in the country. In a true sense, Imran has become the throne in the flesh for Ralwalpindi, which it must address directly.
A strong and opinionated leader with popular support is not in the interest of Pakistan’s ruling elite. Thus, Khan’s defiance and growing popularity are bothering Pakistan Army, and it must address it immediately one way or the other. But before its next move, the establishment must test nations’ state of mind, and it has willing parties to disseminate its message.
In a recent interview with the Dawn News, former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called the current situation ‘a leadership crisis’ wherein if a single party wins every seat in the country, it will not be able to handle the issues. He justified his opinion by saying -the existing system doesn’t have the capacity to address the solutions.
So, what are the options?
A possible solution is to bring Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf back to power, with Imran Khan playing the 12th man wielding power from his pavilion in Lahore. Sidelining Khan will prevent him from controlling the government, which in turn will reduce his visibility, thereby, his popularity and influence. The other added advantage is it will remove the prospect of a public confrontation between Khan and the Generals.
The other radical solution to check Imran’s rise is to force him to share power with one of the two leading political parties -the Pakistan Muslim League (N) or Pakistan Peoples Party under the guidance of the Army, thereby restricting his control or influence over key discussions that in future might impact Pakistan establishments.
Abbasi subtly dropped a hint of a possible new power-sharing equation during his interview when he called on PTI Chairman Imran Khan, PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif, and Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir - the three important players in the game - to initiate a dialogue. In Pakistani politics, anything is possible as long as the Army backs it.
But, knowing Khan is unpredictable, the Army has hedged its next move by raising the Bogey of all-out war with India. In its report submitted to the Supreme Court, the Pak defence ministry cited the threat of an ‘all-out war’ with India as one of the reasons that prevented the government from holding the provincial election.
If Army cannot put the Imran Genie back in the bottle- then as Abbasi said, when they (Army) are left with no choice, the old famous speeches of ‘meray aziz ham watno’ (a phrase synonymous with military takeovers) are heard.
(The author is Founder of My Startup TV)