New Moves, Old Game: How Khan Wants To Secure The Next General Elections

The new King’s party led by Imran Khan is trying to consolidate power after several hiccups caused by its poor governance, economic meltdown, political witch-hunts and gags on the media. Despite soaring external and internal debt, a rising import bill and dwindling exports, Imran Khan and his new economic team led by Shaukat Tareen is on a spending spree all over the place. The activity is supplemented by new ribbon cuttings and providing optics of a government that at least looks busy.

As the government entered the fourth year, the vibes coming out of the Margallas clearly project that Imran’s government seriously wants to hold elections before the second tenure of COAS General Bajwa ends in in November next year. This also means that the regime wants to avoid the election process during the tenure of Justice Qazi Faez Isa as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, poised to start in September 2023.

Before the elections are held, the regime wants to maximize its chances of electoral victory, which includes jacking up the witch-hunts, through either providing an extension to the current NAB chairman or making an appointment of someone even more ruthless towards the opposition.

The regime also wants to gag the media - especially the nascent social media - through a special legislation which creates a super regulator with special courts subservient to the government. The government wants to steamroll its controversial Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Internet Voting (iVoting) for overseas Pakistanis, hoping they will be able to influence the results without leaving any trail.

This seems like a tall order, but Khan thinks he can do it with the help of the miltablishment so that together they can reverse the “disastrous” ramifications of the 18th amendment vis a vis National Finance Commission.

The earliest encounter comes next month when the tenure of the most controversial NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal runs out on October 10. So far, no consultations mandated by law have taken place between PM Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif.

It is highly unlikely that any fruitful and “meaningful” consultation as decreed in the Supreme Court verdict (Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan case) could take place. So, what are the options for the government?

The most likely scenario is that the government may like to amend the NAB act removing the mandatory “meaningful” consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, or even creating the legal possibility of extending the tenure of the current chairman. It won’t be easy and would invite a lot of noise and resistance from the opposition but it is not out of the realm of possibilities.

The same is true for the amendment in Election Act 2017 to accommodate the EVMs and iVoting. The same can be done by amending the law to create the super regulator aka PMDA.

All those legal instruments can be created through a joint session of the parliament, since the government does not have majority in the Upper House.

But all that is easier saying than doing. Despite the fact that the opposition is divided, doing all those acts would be a red rag for the opposition, the civil society, lawyers and the journalist fraternity.

Right now, the PPP and the rest of the PDM are not seeing eye to eye but if the government goes ahead with the extraordinary legislation to use NAB, creating the super regulator to gag the media, steamrolling the controversial EVMs/iVoting to create conditions for reversing the 18th amendment, it has the potential to create new conditions for mass uprisings against the hybrid order. With monsoon ending and the temperatures cooling off, the conditions for long marches and sit-ins are becoming favorable.

For now, all organs of the Pakistan government seem jubilant over the victory of the Taliban in Kabul but the aftermath is still an unchartered territory. The stability of the new order in Kabul is far from certain. IMF program remains suspended as the rupee remains in a free fall against the greenback.
With monsoon ending and the temperatures cooling off, the conditions for long marches and sit-ins are becoming favorable

The overall mood on in Washington is not favorable and is negative against Pakistan by the day. The beeline of European ministers in Islamabad is not aimed at improving relations with Pakistan but to manage the evacuations of Afghans and creating processing centers in Pakistan. The State Department, the Pentagon and the White House remain disengaged with Pakistan.

All this would create more bad news for Pakistan’s bruised and battered economy and provide more ammunition to the opposition. This has potential to derail the game being rolled out by Khan and his patrons. It is easier to make plans but harder to implement them.


The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad