Ten days that shook Pakistan

Ten days that shook Pakistan

Imran Khan and his fascist hybrid regime have finally been kicked out. Thankfully, the Miltablishment and Judiciary that had supported him refused, finally, to bail him out of his self-inflicted troubles. Thankfully, too, the Opposition was able to close ranks in the face of brutal repression  – especially the PMLN that remained united  – and thwart his machinations. But in the end, Imran Khan turned out to be his own worst enemy. Consider.

The PTI was nurtured in the nursery of the Miltablishment like so many other parties. It was hoisted into office by the Miltablishment by herding “electables” into its lap, rigging the 2018 elections and inducing independents and smaller parties to join government. This obviously meant that the PTI’s organic and ideological roots were weak. It couldn’t take the pressure to stand up and be counted when the chips were down, especially when the Miltablishment parted ways with Imran Khan after two frustrating years trying to teach him on how to run a good ship and make their hybrid experiment successful.

Imran Khan also made a blunder when he focused on eliminating the opposition instead of delivering good governance. When the economy plunged and corruption reared its ugly head in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the polls began to progressively put him down and Nawaz Sharif up. Time came in mid 2021 when the wrath of the people and opposition began to be directed at the Miltablishment for foisting him upon the nation. That’s when matters came to a head with his benefactors because he stopped “listening” to them on core issues of finance, governance and foreign policy, bread and butter for them, compelling them to go back to the drawing board for “options”. But that only served to sow the seeds of distrust and made matters worse. The turning point came when he started to meddle in the internal affairs of the Miltablishment, especially when he sought to extend the term of Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as DG ISI with a view to using his secret services to consolidate power in exchange for promising to make him army chief way out of turn. This alienated him from a clutch of senior generals, each of whom had a legitimate expectation of succeeding to the most powerful office in the country. Indeed, this group led by the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, reacted angrily when he refused to surrender General Faiz’s services to them. In the end, the generals had their way, but by then their relationship was on a downward slide, with both sides bristling with indignation.

The Opposition saw the critical breach, put aside their political differences, and made common cause against Imran Khan. The “electables” and “lotas”, who had been ignored and taken for granted by Imran Khan but remained always at the beck and call of the Miltablishment, were quick to discern the hostile mood in the Miltablishment and opened channels of communication with the Opposition. And the rest, as they say, is history. We saw the beginning of the end of Imran Khan in January this year and predicted that his wicket would fall before March was out.

Unfortunately, however, Imran Khan’s narcissistic belief in himself as the embodiment of good and the opposition as evil is against the very spirit of democratic pluralism and rule of law. When he blithely began to flout the very principles and rules of constitutional government and due process of law, he lost his bearings with civil society and his Miltablishment and judicial anchors deserted him. As a last-ditch effort, he made a fatal mistake by clinging to power by subverting the constitution and vowing to burn the house down if he couldn’t preside over it.

The last ten days have shaken Pakistan. April 10th, when the Vote of No Confidence against Imran Khan was finally taken two minutes before midnight, is now being billed as Constitution Day. But as events dramatically unfolded in two fateful hours before midnight, it could easily have been 4th Martial Law Day. Imran Khan refused to resign or obey the orders of the Supreme Court and compelled his cabinet and Speaker of the National Assembly to support his revolt. But when he mooted the threat of sacking the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa and appointing Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as his successor to bail him out, some cabinet members balked. In the end a chat with DGISI and Commander 111 Brigade suitably chastened him and enabled the Vote of No Confidence to move ahead after he threw the Speaker of the National Assembly, Asad Qaisar and his deputy, under the bus to save his own skin. Now he is threatening to lead en masse PTI resignations from the National Assembly if parliament should elect Shahbaz Sharif as the Leader of the House and prime minister designate on April 11th.

Shahbaz Sharif has offered an olive branch to Imran Khan in the national interest. There will be no reciprocal witch hunts, he has assured. But Imran Khan has responded by saying he won’t let the new government function, regardless of the cost to the economy and country in terms of instability and uncertainty. This means we may expect his opponents to retaliate by dragging him through the mud.

The new government has its task cut out for it. It has to reform electoral laws to ensure free and fair elections. It has to amend NAB laws to ensure fair play. But, more urgently, it must also walk the talk between balancing the demands of the people for relief from inflation and the demands of aid and credit agencies for balancing the budget, which means belt tightening all round. The problem is that the nine partners that comprise the Opposition-in-Government will want their pound of flesh for services rendered and will pull the government in so many directions. If the task proves too much for Shahbaz Sharif to handle before the next elections are held, Imran Khan may well recoup some lost ground and pose fresh problems.

Therefore, those who think they can breathe freely again after the tensions of the last three months are advised to think again. The trials and tribulations of democracy are far from over.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.