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Political battles within Pakistan The Excelsior 29 Aug 2022
An editorial in the Dawn newspaper of Pakistan stated last week, ‘As a natural calamity (floods) engulf Pakistan, many members of the political class remain preoccupied with their power struggles.’ It added, ‘It is only now that the gravity of the situation seems to be sinking in, with the prime minister raising the alarm and highlighting the need for hundreds of billions of rupees for flood relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.’ Officially, over 950 have died and around 30 million rendered homeless, with whole villages washed away. Rainfall in many regions have been 200% above the average.
The same editorial accused Imran Khan of conducting rallies rather than visiting flood affected regions and offering support. In a public gathering in Jhelum, Imran stated that his rallies would continue during ‘heatwaves, floods and wars.’ He added that he was waging a war for freedom. Even the media has concentrated on political battles rather than the suffering of the populace.
Zahid Hussain, a noted Pak columnist, writes, ‘Nothing could be more surreal than watching political leaders engaged in a sordid game of thrones while a large part of the country is devastated by torrential rains. Today’s power politics has completely divided the country. While people are suffering, the leaders continue with their senseless wrangling.’ Currently the country stands divided between Imran Khan on one end and the army and the current government on the other.
Hina Jilani, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated, ‘The indifference of the federal and provincial governments and the political opposition is evident from their inability–even amid a growing death toll–to prioritise human life over confrontational politics, palace intrigue and dangerous rhetoric.’ Currently China, EU, Saudi Arabia, UN and the US have provided aid to Pakistan. Pakistan has declared the floods as a humanitarian crisis. Global media has provided more editorial coverage for Pakistan’s humanitarian crisis than its own media.
Such has been the level of struggle for power in Pakistan that the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, commented on it. He stated, ‘The secretary general urges calm, lowering of tensions and respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ The US has attempted to steer away from Pakistan’s internal squabbles. Its state department spokesperson, Ned Price stated, ‘This is a matter for the Pakistani legal and judicial system.’
The Dawn editorial of 26 Aug stated, ‘This Mexican stand-off between our political parties is now drawing international attention, more so since the government egregiously decided to bring terrorism charges against Mr Khan.’ As per Bloomberg, ‘Pakistan’s dollar-denominated bonds took a hit along with its currency and stocks, after the government said it is considering legal action against the former prime minister.’ On 26th Aug, the government accused Imran Khan of jeopardizing the pending IMF loan when his party ruled province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, refused to implement a primary condition for the loan.
In Pakistan, the army overthrowing elected representatives by coups is now a thing of the past. Currently, different organs of the government are employed to target adversaries. Nawaz was banned from politics and jailed by the supreme court on trumped up charges. Imran ousted through an engineered no-confidence motion and is now being threatened by both, the election commission and the courts. Historically, no PM in Pak has ever permitted his predecessor to remain a challenger. Imran was no different. All his challengers face corruption charges. It is now the turn of the current government to extract revenge. The army has always supported the individual they place as PM to target his predecessor. Imran is now fighting for survival.
Both adversaries in Pakistan are going all guns blazing against each other. The first casualty in the battle was Imran’s chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, arrested for his anti-establishment comments. This led to Imran accusing all of ganging together to target him, leading to him being charged with terrorism and pro-Imran media channels banned. Imran being granted bail is only a temporary reprieve, as charges continue to mount. Rumours of his possible arrest, led to thousands of his supporters surrounding his residence to prevent it. His close aides have warned of anarchy in case he is arrested.
At the same time Pakistan is struggling for financial support to overcome its economic mess, while battling devastating floods. None of the antagonists appear concerned about Pakistan’s problems. Imran visited flood hit areas in his party-controlled provinces after 10 days. He has not backed government calls for aid nor tweeted for support. The Pak army, though continuously targeted by Imran, has maintained silence. There are inputs that the army is divided between pro- Imran and anti- Imran camps. General Bajwa, the current chief is scheduled to retire in end Nov and the battle to appoint his successor is on.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a Pak commentator, writes that Imran has adopted Bhutto’s offensive strategy against General Ayub Khan, of the late 1960’s and 70’s, which made him popular, resulting in him becoming PM. The more Imran is targeted, the more support he gains, as the masses are tired of being ruled by proxy governments. His continuous rants against the ‘neutrals’, as he terms the army, gets maximum echo from his audience. The impact of Imran’s rhetoric was evident when anti-army comments flooded social media after the helicopter crash involving Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali. Imran was accused for being behind the social media outrage.
The generals are aware that if Imran is allowed to return, he would no longer be the puppet he once was. Thus, he would have to be sidelined. His victory in every by-election held since his ouster displays his growing popularity. The charges Imran faces could bar him from politics for life, but the question is whether these could be delivered without the situation blowing out of control.
The current game is one of timing. The army is waiting for the right moment to exploit government agencies to act against Imran, while Imran is ensuring that an opportune moment is nor provided. The announcement of a reliever to Bajwa is equally awaited. If early, it could cool down Imran, alternatively, the speculation that Bajwa may get another extension would continue doing the rounds. In the meanwhile floods ravage the country causing devastation while economic woes continue. Can the leaders of Pakistan put aside their fight for the throne and work together to first get the country back on rails and help those in distress.