Eleven months after the “Long March” dissipated, the opposition parties in Pakistan have mounted a challenge to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, abandoning the streets and adopting the parliamentary path, through a “no-confidence” motion in the National Assembly.

Precise date for the move could be anytime in the next three to five weeks, depending upon the success in cobbling up a majority against the government in the National Assembly. The government, with its allies has 182 and a splintered opposition has 162, making remaining 20 the crucial number. Both sides include smaller parties and Independents. If just over half break away, the government will fall.

The opposition would have to work to wean away the government’s allies, persuade those from the smaller parties, the Independents – and all along, keep their own flock together.

Several meetings in the last few weeks between top leaders of the two mainstream parties, PPP and PML (N) and those conducted with smaller parties by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, chief of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and convener of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), have fuelled perceptions that the Khan Government’s parliamentary majority will be challenged on the floor of the National Assembly.

Alternatively, the opposition could move a motion against Speaker Asad Qaiser or Deputy Speaker Qasim suri. Passing that would pressure the government into resigning and calling for early elections, possibly under an interim, caretaker government.

Media reports indicate that cobbling up the numbers is difficult since each members are under diverse pressures. The Khan Government has in the recent past managed even two-thirds majority support, in the opposition-controlled Senate, the upper house, to pass legislations required to meet stipulations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)  for getting a loan and those required by the Financial Action Task force (FATF) that is probing Pakistan’s money laundering and funding of terror outfits.

These were achieved by unorthodox means, allegedly, through bribery and ensuring members’ absence from the House before the crucial vote. The government ensured the absence of even the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Analysts say the opposition would move only when fully sure of winning the vote, since a failure could hugely strengthen Khan when general elections are only 20 months away.  Whatever his performance as Prime Minister, Khan has a good record of fighting in the opposition, both in legislature and on the streets. He  can be expected to fight back with all resources at his command.

In the process of devising its strategy, the opposition is still divided, media reports say, on what to do if the no-confidence motion is won. Should it opt for early elections, or for an interim government? In the latter case, who would head it?  Names of former president and PPP’s co-chairman Asif Zardari and PML-N’s current chief, Shehbaaz Sharif have been in currency.

These are the hard facts. Above them all, any analysis of Pakistan’s turbulent political arena would be easy if the first and the last step are kept in mind. Actually, the two are the same: outcome of the challenge that is building up, yet again, against the incumbent will be decided by the all-powerful military.

Called by different names — like “powers that be’ “the establishment”, ‘Rawalpindi’, where the Army’s General Headquarters (GHQs) are located, or ‘Miltablishment’, the military-civil combine that rules the country – it is supposed to have placed Khan, its current ‘proxy’, in power. The challenge to him is also coming from those are awaiting, even working for, a favourable glance from the same entity.

They include the two mainstream parties, the PPP that rules in Sindh province and the PML-N, three of whose government, led by Nawaz Sharif, have been dismissed in the past. Besides, a majority of the smaller parties, especially the Islamist ones, and politicians possessing pocket-boroughs, do not act with a ‘signal’ from the military. Even Maulana Fazal’s party is close to the military establishment.

The overall picture Pakistan presents is that the military wary of taking direct power as it has done thrice before since the current situation is dire, both politically and economically, needs to civilian façade. Khan has repeatedly said that his government is “on the same page” with the military. But past experience is that of the army taking the final call, even if it has to engineer the elections to ensure another ‘proxy’ to rule the country.

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