It took Prime Minister Imran Khan a little over three years to turn his `Naya Pakistan` into a `Gaya Pakistan`, a Gone Pakistan.
So dramatic has been Pakistan’s fall that the only way out seems to be the ouster of Khan, a prospect equally riddled with uncertainties for the political parties as well as the military.
Much of the blame for Pakistan’s downslide since August 2018 should lie at the doorstep of flamboyant cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. He came to Islamabad throne with the help of the military, reviving an old concept of political accommodation known as the hybrid regime. With the powerful support of the military, Khan offered a new hope for the hapless people of Pakistan; he called it `Naya Pakistan`, a New Pakistan.
But when his misplaced ambition clashed with the hard-nosed real politics of the Generals, things began to go wrong fast. His flip-flops on policies, his dalliance with militant groups, his campaign to silence the media, his lack of vision on economic matters and growing stand-off with the military, the last one being the calculated pause on the appointment of ISI chief, made him unpopular among the people.
When Khan began punching beyond his weight in all kinds of affairs, especially in Afghanistan and other key international alliances, he began fumbling and faltering rapidly. He was exultant when the Taliban took over Kabul and refused to heed his government’s advice on crucial matters, including on anti-Pakistan groups like TTP. As terrorist attacks sharpened in Pakistan since then, his image as `Mr Taliban` has dented beyond repair. No less damaging has been his cantankerous dealings with Saudi Arabia and the US, two most staunch allies of Pakistan in the recent past. His new found love for Turkey and China has not done much to help bolster his or his country’s image.
Within the country, the Prime Minister is fast losing his poise and popularity. With minorities on the edge of despair and a large section of the society struggling to make their ends meet, Khan has run out of new slogans to entice them. His party’s recent losses in the local elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa are a clear signal.
The main opposition parties too have sensed the end of the road for Khan and are preparing to take him on the next elections. The military’s overtures to Nawaz Sharif and others too do not augur well for Khan.
Growing opposition to his rule has not gone un-noticed by Khan and his acolytes. His outbursts and political moves in recent times show more of desperation than being in command. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), has launched its own street movement to counter the gathering Opposition storm. At the party’s first rally, the government spokesperson promised to put Rs. 10 lakhs in every poor Pakistani’s pocket. Khan rushed to Noskhi in Balochistan on February 8 along with the Army chief, General Bajwa, to commiserate with the security forces which suffered one of the most serious attacks in recent times by Baloch rebels. Khan declared a 15% hike in the salaries of Frontier Corps and Rangers.
What is keeping his doddering regime in place is the divided and unsure opposition. Nawaz Sharif is still not confident about the alleged neutrality of the military and his party is not keen on any collaboration with the other main political party, Zardari’s PPP. The recent passage (Jan. 28) of the State Bank of Pakistan Autonomy Bill in the Senate with one vote, though at the behest of the Establishment, created another reason for doubt between PPP and PML-N.
Above all, the military too is not confident about the next course of action, given the rumors about a possible extension for General Bajwa in November this year. In all likelihood, these may be rumors floated by the political parties. In reality, Bajwa might be quite keen on getting the political confusion sorted out before his tenure ends. But the question before him is–who could be a `safe bet` for the military as it struggles to deal with a rapidly changing neighborhood and the world?