Imran Khan’s ouster: Has army won the battle but lost the war FirstPost 12 Apr 2022
After a week of political drama involving the establishment (army), supreme court, street protests, scenes in the senate, finally Imran Khan was shown the door. Long winding speeches by SM Qureshi attempting to stall the voting and selection of the new PM came to naught. To gain internal sympathy and continue to project his theory of foreign interference, Imran refused to resign, despite losing majority, and was compelled to step down by the vote of no-confidence. To add to the political drama, the Pak president, Arif Alvi, suddenly became unwell and Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in by the chairman of the senate, Sadiq Sanjran.
Imran’s accusation of the US being behind his ouster gained him sympathy from all quarters including veterans from the powerful army. In Pak TV channels, many veterans came out in his support. Veteran support implies that there are divisions even amongst the serving on backing Imran and his accusations. Imran’s terming the Shehbaz led government as imposed by the US added to his support base. In the recent Islamabad Security dialogue, while Imran accused the US of interference in Pakistan’s internal matters, Bajwa batted for closer Pak-US ties.
There were reports that Imran had considered sacking the army chief and appointing General Faiz Hameed as his replacement to ensure his chair. This was thwarted. Reports of army troop movements in Islamabad indicated that the establishment was preparing to act in case Imran crossed the red line and announced a new chief. Evidently Imran had gone against the hand that had supported him in a final act of survival.
In Pakistan, the US and India are most disliked. Aware that the opposition was ganging up against him, with support from the army, Imran played his foreign card. By mentioning that US never imposes its will on India, like it does on Pakistan, he linked the two disliked nations together and added to his sympathy base. Imran’s ouster and mass resignations of his party members from the senate has only added fuel to the ongoing political crisis in Pakistan.
Shehbaz was compelled in his first address itself to toe Imran’s lines by linking resolution of Kashmir to talks with India, promising a probe into the foreign conspiracy claim, building relations with China, Saudi’s, UAE and Europe. There was no mention of ties with the US. Akin to Iman he announced a slew of financial gifts, hoping to regain some space. The battle for political dominance in Pakistan has just commenced. However, there are many knowns and unknowns which could impact Pakistan’s internal scenario.
It is unknown whether this hybrid government of known enemies would remain in place till formal elections are held in 2023 or collapse midway. It is also unknown whether the PPP and PML (N) would join hands in the next election to challenge Imran or fight independently, splitting votes. Imran, in anticipation of collapse of the government has begun playing the election card. He has started organizing protests and pushing his foreign interference agenda, hoping the masses ignore his economic and foreign policy failures. It is unknown whether Imran has enough support to attempt a comeback, without backing of the army. However, it is known that he has enough popularity to remain in the limelight.
It is also known that investigations into foreign funding for Imran Khan’s PTI, which had slowed down while he was the PM, would gather steam. Summons would be issued at frequent intervals and there would be leaks in the media to tarnish his image. Imran had denied the existence of many accounts, but that denial would no longer hold ground. A corollary is that corruption cases against his government may emerge. It is unknown whether all of these could push Imran’s actions back or compel him to follow his predecessors into exile.
The next unknown is what would the powerful Pakistan army do. It is known that Shehbaz Sharif has an excellent rapport with them. He was Nawaz’s intermediary with the army, whenever differences arose. Evidently, he was the establishment’s choice as the PM. The combination of sworn enemies forming this government is with the army’s blessing. Would the army now ensure that this government continues for its full term, is unknown. If the government does complete its term, Imran’s foreign policy claim would die a natural death as many other issues would come to fore. It is also unknown how many political leaders with mass appeal would ditch Imran in the interim, under pressure from the army.
It is also unknown how successful will the Shehbaz government be in resolving the economic situation. If it brings it under control, Imran will need to find new issues to fight elections. If it fails, it may open doors for Imran’s return. However, it is known that till the issue of appointment of the next army chief or extension of General Bajwa, due in Nov, is settled, this government will remain.
It is known that the career of General Faiz Hameed has ended with the resignation of Imran. He would never be in the reckoning for the next army chief. Simultaneously it is unknown as to what are Bajwa’s intentions. Is he seeking a third term. If he is granted one there could be increased divisions within the army, many of whom could turn towards backing Imran. In case Bajwa retires then who would he desire replaces him.
Pakistan’s current scenario is filled with unknowns, with few knowns sprinkled in. How would the future emerge is anybody’s guess. Nothing has been lost, neither side has won. The establishment as the referee continues to observe. Involvement of anti-corruption bodies to shape the landscape would now gain space. The first major internal challenge will be the extension of General Bajwa due in Nov. How will Shehbaz navigate through it will determine the future of the government. For us, it will be wait and watch.