Will Imran Khan Suffer The Same Fate As Musharraf?

Will Imran Khan Suffer The Same Fate As Musharraf?
As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government enters its toughest month, the contradictions that underpin it become more glaring. The party that claimed to stand for justice used Islamabad police to storm into the Parliamentary lodges to dislodge the opposition's huddle. The police arrested several members of the opposition’s JUI(F), their colleagues (Ansar Ul Islam) and injured several opposition members. The arrested individuals were released this morning, after which the JUI-F called off its plans for a nationwide protest. However, this episode reveals how desperate the PTI government is.

Just two days ago, Minister Asad Umar said during a primetime talk show that ‘weather in Rawalpindi’ was very fine and claimed he’d just come back from a visit to Rawalpindi. Imran’s closest aide was signalling that the establishment was still in cahoots with PTI – so much for a party that claimed to be populist and anti status quo. The PTI, even in its darkest phase, wishes to signal that the most powerful centre in the country still backs them. Such is the contraction that afflicts this party.

It is no secret that the Imran government is hanging by the barest of threads. With a vote of no confidence en route, the government has acted shamelessly by intimidating opposition members. The police action in parliamentary lodges is an act of thuggery, which has happened under the auspices of the interior ministry which controls Islamabad police. This deliberate violence and aggression neatly fits into Imran Khan’s broader strategy of creating chaos and confusion. The government aims to induce anger, protests and violent response by opposition parties which would translate into further arrests. Naked eye observation reveals that arresting a few members is favourable for the government from numbers’ standpoint. Every opposition member behind the bar means 1 less vote against the Prime Minister. It is equally unsurprising that this brazen act of violence took place right after Imran had mimicked and threatened opposition in Karachi with severe consequences.

The pretext used by the interior ministry for invading the Parliamentary lodges is an affront to rule of law. It has been claimed that opposition’s JUI(F) had begun entertaining too many security guards from Ansar Ul Islam. It was precisely at this point that a recourse to Parliamentary protocols was required. The government could have a) informed the speaker of the National Assembly to dismiss these guards from Parliamentary lodges b) initiated dialogue with opposition to reduce their numbers. The problem of too many numbers inside the lodges is one of administration and logistics rather than rule of law and order. It is, therefore, quite preposterous that the government sanctioned police to instigate an operation of sorts against the opposition's huddle.

The JUI-F has responded with defiance. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s call for political workers to block roads and cities was more a visceral reaction, than political tact. The Maulana later displayed maturity and gave an ultimatum to the government to release the arrested parliamentarians and workers by morning. After the arrested individuals were released, he called off the protests which means the threat of further violence and chaos on the streets has died down at least for now. But the possibility of such unrest taking place in the next few days cannot be ruled out, especially with the ruling PTI announcing a ‘historic’ jalsa at D-chowk on the day of the vote of no confidence. Since Imran Khan’s decision-making calculus is now dominated by considerations of survival and longevity of his government, he would try to make the vote of no confidence redundant by hook or by crook. And to survive, he would prefer conflict, violence and aggression on the streets. The situation is hence headed for potential conflict in the coming days. Any further escalation can also force the powers that be to intervene.

While Pakistan stands on the cusp of another Prime Ministerial change (albeit democratically this time), one can’t help but identify the shocking similarities between Parvez Musharraf’s final days and Imran Khan's actions right now. The dictator clamped down on civil society, beat lawyers, banned journalists and arrested defiant politicians. As a teenager back then, the image of ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry being bullied and manhandled by the police is imprinted on my brain. It may well be Imran Khan’s last month in office, and it has stark resemblance to Musharraf’s final days in office. He has threatened opposition, arrested members of parliament, beaten opposition workers and lashed out at the media (not to mention efforts to pass the draconian PECA). The viral video showing police manhandling JUI’s Kamran Murtaza brought back unfortunate memories of the time Iftikhar Chaudry was dragged by the police in 2007. It may not be a perfect like for like, but if this trajectory continues, Imran will suffer the same fate as Musharraf did. 

The writer is the co-founder of the Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.