Imran Khan’s “strategy”, if it can be called that, is to pressure the Miltablishment to abandon political “neutrality” and take his side in pushing out the PDM government and enabling him to return to office via a quick general election while the PDM’s popularity graph is dipping. He threatened a long march to besiege the National Assembly. Then he offered General Qamar Javed Bajwa a short extension to oversee a caretaker regime so that he could win the election and appoint General Faiz Hameed as army chief. When Nawaz Sharif didn’t bite into his formula, he tried to pressure the PDM and Miltablishment to appoint anyone but General Asim Munir to the coveted slot. Now that this move has also failed, again because Nawaz Sharif dug his heel in, he is threatening to dissolve the Punjab and KP provincial assemblies and drown the country in unchartered waters.
Is this move, like the Long March, an empty threat that will end with a whimper?
He says he will, on December 17, announce the date when the dissolution threat will be carried out. That could be a week or two or more hence, which is exactly the way the dates for the Long March were periodically announced and then pushed back. But one should note the deliberate opening provided by such an announcement to the PDM to preempt any such move by launching a vote of no-confidence or vote of confidence., including a challenge in the higher courts to review a couple of judgments against floor crossing, to stave dissolution or capture the assembly.
Mr Khan’s idea is, of course, to get back into the game of negotiating an early election with the PDM. He has put President Arif Alvi in charge of back-door talks with the Miltablishment and PDM to give him a face-saving entry back into the National Assembly where the terms and conditions of the next election, including the composition of the caretaker regimes, are to be mutually hammered out. It is interesting that the Supreme Court of Pakistan also seems keen on nudging him in this direction, ostensibly to submit PTI resignations in person before the Speaker, which may be a face-saving peg on which to return to Islamabad and then take a suitable U-Turn after a deal is struck with the government to set a mutually acceptable final date for the election.
But what if this plan fails to materialize? What if the PDM doesn’t give him a face-saving exit and compels him to carry out his threat and dissolve the two provincial assemblies?
Two fundamental views are well known. Neither the Miltablishment not the PDM government is interested in a quick general election simply because the former thinks it is against the national interest that requires political stability for economic turnaround and the latter believes it is against its party political interest until it has bought time to create popular will in its favour. So if Khan goes ahead, he can be sure that the two will join hands to knock him out. This could precipitate disqualification from contesting elections in any one of the several cases hanging over his head and even criminal conviction and detention if so required.
Imran Khan is also misguided if he thinks that by continuing to publicly attack General Bajwa, he is reaping the seeds of division in the Miltablishment, or by not attacking General Asim Munir he is endearing himself to the new army chief. The fact is that the Miltablishment is united in protecting its institutional interests by protecting the repute of its ex-army chief, as it has done on other occasions in the past. Khan is also mistaken if he thinks he can pressure the new army leadership to shunt or sack some of the officers named in the letter written by the mother of the slain journalist, Arshad Sharif, to the chief justice of Pakistan.
Imran Khan is done. He can either play by the rules of the constitutional game, return to parliament and wait for the next elections to roll out as scheduled, or he should get ready to contest on a level playing field by facing disqualification and possible imprisonment like Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif.