Course Correction

Course Correction
After months of prevarication, Prime Minister Imran Khan has finally notified a change of command at the ISI. Why he dug his heels in and refused to concede GHQ’s demand for months until the nth day (almost one month hence) is not rationally clear. If he did it unwillingly in the end when relations came close to breaking point, why didn’t he do it earlier when all was hunky dory between them? Now he has lost the trust of the Miltablishment and bitterly alienated it to boot, compelling it to review its options going forward without him. But by so doing, he has, unbelievably, accomplished a task – torn up the “one page” narrative of the PTI-Miltablishment that was threatening to keep the opposition parties out in the cold for a decade at least. This the opposition’s democratic alliance had failed to do in two years.

From the outset, the “one-page” narrative was based on two factors. First, the institutional hostility of the Miltablishment towards the PMLN and PPP and their respective leaders Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari that necessitated the search for a third option with the installation of the PTI and Imran Khan in office. Second, the motivated, personal, vested interests of the three top players who came to dominate the proceedings – COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, DGISI Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed and PM Imran Khan -- that gelled with the first factor.

When these factors began to lose vitality with rising popular hostility to the selectors and selected, or the main players came into competition or conflict, the stage was set for an unravelling of the plan. The first two players had connived to bring the third into office. As reward, Gen Bajwa sought and obtained a three year term extension, after which Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed was to wait in line to succeed him and help Imran Khan win a second five year term. It was also expected that Imran Khan would provide good governance to win hearts and minds and thus justify the Militablishment’s blueprint. But then the atrocious performance of the chosen one robbed the Miltablishment (that was propping him up) of its credibility and put it directly in the firing line of the people. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam helped shape and drive this narrative. Then they drove a wedge between Gen Bajwa representing the Militablishment and Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed and Imran Khan by naming and shaming the latter two who stood accused of batting solely for themselves regardless of the consequences for the Miltablishment or the country.

Now the Miltablishment has been left with no option but to line up behind Gen Bajwa to redeem its credibility by sidelining Lt-Gen Faiz, ousting Imran Khan and correcting course behind an old but popular party (PMLN) and a new and pro-Miltablishment PM (Shahbaz Sharif) following free and fair general elections early next year.

Of course, Imran Khan can still nuke this developing scenario by sacking Gen Bajwa before he executes his ouster and appointing a senior general as the next chief instead of Lt-Gen Faiz to dilute the hostility of the institution. If Gen Bajwa takes the Gen Jehangir Karamat route of 1998 and goes home quietly, then Imran Khan is home, safe and sound. But if the Miltablishment nudges Gen Bajwa to take the Gen Pervez Musharraf route in 1999, then Imran Khan will face a fate worse than Nawaz Sharif did in 1999. Will he risk it? Martyrdom does not come easy to unpopular leaders.

Gen Bajwa will have full command and control of the ISI after Gen Faiz is shunted to 11 Corps in Peshawar late next month. Indeed, as matters now stand, Gen Faiz has already lost effective control of the agency to Gen Bajwa because all its top officers can read the writing on the wall. Indeed, his future is severely circumscribed because of the robust litany of charges against him.

There are several ways to engineer Imran Khan’s ouster. The swiftest is a decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to knock him out along with the PTI for embezzling party funds, the evidence for which is overwhelming, even though it would be as unworthy a pretext as the “iqama” that felled Nawaz Sharif. Another way is to start the downslide by changing the government in Punjab (long live the Chaudhries and Turncoats) and launching a revolt against Islamabad from there, thereby triggering a collapse of the PTI government in Islamabad. A short lived government would then dissolve the Assemblies, caretakers would be sworn in and free and fair fresh elections held that would return the popular PMLN to power. In due course, the new elected government would either extend Gen Bajwa’s term for a year or give him safe passage to a secure retirement.

It hardly needs saying that Imran Khan could also call it a day by dissolving the assemblies and calling fresh elections. That would be the democratic way of resolving this crisis by asking the voter to decide who is right or wrong, who to punish and who to elevate. But Imran is not one to lay down arms without a fight. And he is certainly not a democrat by any standards. So we may expect the political weather to get rough in the next few months.

It is unfortunate that the country has been brought to this pass by the reckless machinations of the Miltablishment and the vested interests of its leading members, in cahoots with eminent lights of the judiciary. But it is not too late for the very same institutions to correct course and make amends for the sake of the country.

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.