Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s fate is sealed, having gone from blue-eyed boy of the army to something akin to what the cat brought in. The army now wants to put as much distance between itself and Imran Khan, as is reasonably possible. Translated, this means that as an organisation, it is done with him and is quite happy for the opposition to tear him apart – but only as long as the opposition does not become a formidable force in itself.
As a result, Imran Khan’s increasingly deranged attempts to save himself speak of the complete meltdown he is in. He has tried to play every unconstitutional, half-witted card that has come to his mind, or suggested by his incompetent and equally criminal-minded advisors.
The 'Foreign Conspiracy' Letter
The latest act of sheer madness came when he waved a “letter” from his container at the Sunday “million man” jalsa in the parade ground in Islamabad. Whipping up nationalist sentiment, he alleged the vote of no confidence against him was an international conspiracy because he was running “an independent foreign policy” like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He accused the entire opposition of being part of the conspiracy and very broadly hinted at the army being involved in it, too. He also warned, “I will not become Bhutto” – perhaps a reference to becoming a victim of the fall from the grace of the army.
By Wednesday morning, Asad Umar had stated that Nawaz Sharif was directly involved in the conspiracy and that the “letter” clearly stated that there would be dire consequences if the no-confidence failed. Fawad Chaudhry added that Nawaz Sharif met Isreal’s ambassador. By Wednesday evening, Faisal Wavda had alleged that threats to Imran Khan’s life had been made. All this was beyond cuckoo, and was designed to create a frenzy in the core base.
Of course, it turned out there was no letter by any foreign power threatening dire consequences should the vote of no confidence fail. It was a routine cable sent by a Pakistani diplomat based in Washington DC outlining the contents of some discussions possibly about certain Pakistan policies. The stunt certainly energised his base, but it was a mad punt to try and put the army on a back foot.
The gambit appears to have been to scare the army into falling into line and becoming “non-neutral” again out of fear of his 'youthias' (a pejorative term used for Imran's supporters), who buy anything he feeds them.
Indeed, ever since the army has begun to insist upon becoming “neutral”, it has been at the receiving end of naked abuse from hardcore supporters of Imran Khan.
Apart from several non-descript Twitter accounts, several well-known PTI accounts and TV anchors have also partaken in the mudslinging against the army at having their ‘handsome’ ditched so cruelly. The known accounts, though, have sensibly deleted their tweets since.
The Army Has Landed Itself In a Pickle
The dark irony here is that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, when speaking to reporters after the Pakistan Day ceremony, complained that “hum siyasat mein mudakhlat karein tau humein gaaliaN padti hein, na karein tau gaalian padti hein” (we get abused when we interfere in politics and get abused when we don’t). And he was actually right. Democratic-minded people do vent their anger and hurl abuse at the army when it interferes in politics.
And now, for the first time in the history of the country, we saw PTI supporters abusing the army for withdrawing its unconstitutional “support” of Imran Khan. But it is also a sad reflection of where the army has landed itself – that the once-respected and/or feared institution’s chief now admits publicly that it is at the receiving end of the public’s ire. But it has only itself to blame for creating such expectations and providing a sense of unconditional support and impunity to the PTI, which its base had begun to take for granted.
'Interpreting' a Clause
But this last act of desperation came on the heels of a string of demented attempts to hold on to power. There is the current presidential reference in the Supreme Court which is asking the court to interpret a clear-cut clause of the constitution to bar PTI members of the House from voting against Imran, or to rule that their votes would not be counted, or at the very least to rule that these members would be disqualified for life if they voted against him. The clause in question cannot conceivably be interpreted because it clearly and simply outlines a procedure whereby the floor-crossers could be de-seated. That’s it. If the Supreme court were to read anything else into it, it would be akin to amending the constitution.
Though anything could have been expected from the current Chief Justice and one or two of his lieutenants on the bench, the Supreme Court, having seen the direction of the wind, has conveniently fixed the next hearing for Monday – a clear signal that it will not strike fear into the hearts of PTI members or prevent them from joining the no-confidence motion.
The last day the voting can be done is on Sunday. So, we can comfortably consider this fanciful attempt at subverting the constitution as also having come to an end. After the vote, which will almost surely remove Imran Khan from office, the President will most likely resign, and if he does not, then he will be impeached – and the reference is quite likely to either become infructuous or be simply sent back.
A Leaf Out of Trump's Book
A few previous attempts to “persuade” General Bajwa and the corp commanders included literally calling them animals, for having become neutral in this battle of “haq” (good) and “batil” (evil). Imran Khan repeatedly said only animals cannot tell the difference between good and evil, and that Allah commands people to side with good in a battle between evil and good. So, he not only played the religion card but also hurled barely veiled abuse at the institution of the army. No one other than the army has been at pains to claim neutrality in the current fracas.
All of his antics to stay in power have been uncannily Trumpian in nature. He has already had a physical attack carried out on Sindh House where PTI members who intend to vote are being given protection. It took General Bajwa to call Interior Minister Shaikh Rasheed to come to his senses and use the police to stop the attack.
There were plans for violence on the day the vote of no-confidence motion was to be filed. It was announced that anyone attempting to enter the assembly that day would have to pass through “ten lakh tigers” and face them afterwards, too.
This was put paid to by the Supreme Court’s remarks and the government backed down. On Wednesday, Imran Khan planned to show the ”threatening letter” of conspiracy to “senior journalists” of his choice, and later also to “address the nation”. But then he was paid a visit by the DG ISI Nadeem Anjum, and both plans were cancelled.
Suffice it to say, none of his tactics has succeeded so far – not even the offer of chief ministership of Punjab to PMLQ’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi, after abruptly taking the resignation from Usman Buzdar, aka Waseem Akram Plus. The desired result remained elusive and none of the allies or floor-crossers returned thinking tables have turned or that the “neutrals” have once again become “non-neutrals”. Instead, resignation followed resignation, and announcement followed announcement to vote against him. It appears that Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi had received calls either from General Faiz Hameed himself or from his former subordinates to go and accept the offer. But it turns out the rest of the army was not on the same page. Now that little insubordination is being sorted out, as the story goes.
Imran Khan Has Lost All Room for Negotiation
As I write, PTI is once again threatening to bring a hundred thousand people in front of the assembly on the day of the vote to terrorise the former allies, floor-crossers, and opposition members into compliance. This again implies a threat of violence and is evocative of Trump’s insurrection on the Capitol on 6 January 2021.
He is emulating Trump to the last, from coming to power through a manipulated (in Pakistan’s case heavily rigged election), to being a habitual liar, to having no sense of history, to attacking the media, to committing illegal and unconstitutional acts, to nepotism, and finally to desperate attempts to subvert the democratic process through violence and anarchy.
But Imran Khan’s goose is as good as cooked, though there are strong rumours that he is trying now for an honourable exit, whereby he holds early elections in exchange for the vote of no-confidence being taken back. Even if true, I doubt the opposition will bite.
There is no trust, and by all accounts, the army is not interested in facilitating any such negotiations. Indeed, the army is said to not want a single day more of the Imran Khan migraine.
What remains to be seen is what future he or his party might have in Pakistani politics – and indeed what all transpired in the three-and-a-half short years to bring him to where he stands now after such a glorious and hallowed start. This is something I will take up in the next piece.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)