Islamabad, Pakistan: “There’s nothing called neutrality in politics, only animals stay neutral,” Imran Khan had said a day after the military’s spokesperson clarified that the Army had nothing to do with politics, calling for an end to speculation regarding its role in political affairs.
The political “signals” of this “neutrality” have caused a veritable exodus from among the allies who sustain his government, but at least a dozen of his PTI lawmakers who have been disgruntled, to reduce his majority support when put to vote later this month.
The “signals” have also travelled to the opposition parties that have united against him and have moved a no-confidence motion, the ultimate parliamentary weapon to bring down a government.
Unitedly and also separately, the opposition parties are also staging protest rallies in different cities and “Long Marches” to converge on the national capital in time for the parliamentary vote, likely to take place on March 27.
Khan and colleagues close to him are in the political dock for turning what could have been –and should have been – a parliamentary exercise into an unseemly political brawl involving street power. This compelled the Supreme Court to hear on March 19 a petition from the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) urging that the apex court end what the bar body called “political anarchy.”
The court issued notices to the major political parties and undertook to hear on a daily basis the constitutional issues governing the no-confidence motion exercise.
Whatever the court’s verdict, what has been happening has involved the use of abusive language by Khan and his men (also a lady lawmaker), fisticuffs by the party cadres and an actual storming of Sindh House in Islamabad where a dozen PTI Members of the National Assembly MNAs) were hiding for safety. This was after the PTI cadres had stormed the Parliament’s Lodges where the lawmakers reside.
Khan’s ministers have threatened a massive rally at the Constitution Avenue in front of Parliament, popularly called “D Chowk” – D for democracy – where the dissenting lawmakers would be screened, and their “legs broken”, when they return after voting.
Violence has been in the air even as Khan, who has angered practically all sections of Pakistan’s society, displays zeal to root out corruption, using the state’s agencies as political weapons.
The first major red signal for Khan came when he sought to oppose the army brass’ decision to shift Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, chief of the all-powerful ISI, whom Khan entrusted political peddling of keeping the lawmakers on their toes and also engage in a diplomatic task like facilitating the formation of interim Taliban government in Kabul after the extremist Sunni militia captured power in Afghanistan.
While the prime minister has a say in choosing the Army Chief, the military does not generally countenance interference in the internal appointments.
On the diplomatic front also, Khan has annoyed all friends of Pakistan. He was in Moscow hours after the Ukraine crisis started, even calling the moment “exciting times.”
To fight off his political challenge, he has taken to a daily diatribe against the US and the European Union, all major benefactors. He blames them for bringing the Afghan war against the soviets into Pakistan. Critics have said the Western-educated Khan, who was a renowned cricketer who captained Pakistan’s side, sympathises with the Taliban and Islamist militant groups while claiming to fight them. Indeed, his government is in talks for peace deals with them even while banning them.
The current political crisis has not pushed these groups away. Attacks in cities and border areas have killed over a hundred soldiers and civilians in 2022 from attacks by Al Qaida, IS and their Pakistani affiliates, especially the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that, by the government’s own claims, has killed over 80,000 people since 2008.
Khan has annoyed the media at home and now newspaper editorials freely criticise his use of abuses and expletives to describe his critics, especially dissident lawmakers. A woman lawmaker of Khan’s party called the dissenters ‘prostitutes.’
Khan’s strategy to fight off his political opponents includes attacking the West in general, injecting anti-India sentiments and raising the Kashmir issue as a diversion.
More pointedly, he has specifically named the US, blaming it for hatching a ‘conspiracy’ to oust him. This is seen as a loss of nerve and, in the process, his political credibility. Even if untrue, this charge could damn Khan, as the military and civil establishment, well-favoured by the US are unlikely to like it.