It is neighbourhood dictator time again. In a manner most unsuitable to a supposedly democratically elected Prime Minister, Imran Khan has been frothing at the mouth, warning his opponents of everything from divine wrath to his own more plebian fury if their vote of no-confidence against his government doesn’t succeed. Because that’s what a rather shakily united opposition has done – filed a resolution to eject him from office. As of now, it seems that they will succeed, especially since the winds from Rawalpindi are whispering in that direction.
Imran Khan Goes Ballistic
At a recent public gathering, the Prime Minister against the ‘Gang of thieves’, identifying Nawaz Sharif as a ‘geedar’ (jackal), his brother Shahbaz as a chaprasi (peon) and rather most nastily as a ‘boot-polisher’. He also called former President Zardari ‘Mr Ten per cent' in referring to a widespread belief in the cut that gentleman allegedly demanded when his wife Benazir was in office.
All of that and more may be true, but the comments brought South Asian politics to levels even lower than what it already is.
This outburst seems to indicate that Khan is running scared, quite unlike March last year when the opposition broke on the rocks of their own individual ambitions.
This time around, it seems they have united truly as a redoubtable ‘gang’.
The No Confidence in the 'No-Confidence'
There was truly little in the Opposition to inspire any confidence at all. The no-confidence motion has been in the air for months, but with no common agreement. That’s hardly surprising, since the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 11 political parties who were supposed to challenge the government, collapsed just six months after its formation in 2020 on an obvious issue. The grouping had called upon all members to resign en masse, which was resisted by the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), who, naturally, being in power in Sindh, had no intention of giving all that up.
Worse, the election of former Prime Minister Youssef Raza Gilani as the leader of the Opposition in the Senate, with the help of the Balochistan Awami Party – widely seen as an Army-backed party – was immediately seen as suspect. That led to the end of the planned long march in March last year and the PPP and the Awami National Party leaving the alliance. The platform was left with just four parties, which were mainly Nawaz Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), and three small parties – the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), the National Party (NP) and the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal).
While Sharif was lambasting the establishment from his London home, Asif Ali Zardari has been working the political chessboard, reaching out to traditional establishment parties like the Chaudhry’s of Gujerat, even as his son, the ebullient Bilawal Bhutto, worked the streets. It’s a great combination that the Sharifs have yet to beat.
And don’t forget that the 'Long March' now converging into Islamabad is a PPP show and has effectively united the party workers, the backbone of any political movement. Nawaz cannot come back from London until corruption cases – however manipulated – are settled. And Maryam Nawaz, while a crowd-puller, has to contend with her uncle Shahbaz Sharif, who has his own sons and heirs to think of, and their political future. Despite all this, the grouping has now united in its demands, with all working behind the scenes to get the required numbers.
The Motion Goes Ahead
The no-confidence motion has now achieved its first success. It was reportedly submitted with signatures, far more than the 68 needed under Article 54 of the Constitution. One document requestioned a session of the National Assembly, and the other the no-confidence motion itself. This means that the Speaker will have to summon the Legislature before 22 March, and the motion has to be carried by a simple majority of 172 in the house of a total of 342.
The Opposition it has 180 votes, which means it has eaten into the PTI coalition and perhaps into the PTI itself. That is in no small part due to Imran Khan himself. He championed for Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar – who is seen as one of the most incompetent politicians alive –thereby alienating the powerful camp headed by sugar baron Jehangir Tareen, who was once quite literally the ‘sugar daddy’ of the party.
Khan Has Himself to Blame
Then there’s the undoubted fact of Khan’s failures on all fronts. He is accused of having sold his country to the (IMF) particularly as inflation creeps up to 12.3 per cent. He is also accused of having alienated the Saudis who were his chief bankrollers, as well as the US because of his government’s unstinted backing of the Taliban, and perhaps even China, as seemed the case after his most recent visit to Beijing quite literally with a begging bowl, asking for a rollover of debt of a whopping . That has been a constant refrain, which has so far been equally constantly refused.
And the crowning folly was the visit to Moscow on the day of the invasion of Ukraine, a visit advised against by his military. No, Khan has few people to blame. It is his own – and his advisor’s – pit to fall in.
What happens next is not entirely certain. Assuming the motion is carried, which seems likely, it's not just the Prime Minister who goes out of the door, but the entire cabinet. According to the rules, the House has to be convened before 22 March and the process completed at the end of that month. If the resolution succeeds – and it does seem likely given the hostility that surrounds him – then the President may call for fresh elections, or the Assembly may elect a new Speaker. The thing is, no Prime Minister has ever been hurried out through such a procedure before. Besides, in Pakistan, nothing is certain till the plug is pulled.
This political soap opera is naturally of great interest to New Delhi, but whether it will change much, particularly in bilateral terms, is uncertain. A new government will still be beholden to China. It will still have large swathes of population bred on extreme and volatile issues like ‘blasphemy’, and it will pride itself on being ‘anti-American’ given its backing of the Taliban and the Moscow visit. And of course, Khan has been at the forefront of the anti-India tirade, with a ‘Kashmir day’ almost every month.
Whether a new government, however strong in numbers, will have the courage to set Pakistan on a more fruitful and ultimately prosperous path will depend to a great extent on that enigmatic institution, the Army.
But then, the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who made some tentative utterances for peace in the region last year, will be in office only till November 2022 as per the Ministry of Defence’s notification. Whether his successor will see matters with a clear eye of sagacity and the welfare of Pakistani people is even more uncertain than the outcome of a future election. In the last matter, there is at least the successful long march to behold, and a young leader hitting all the right notes in D-Chowk, the epicentre of political change.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)