Lone Wolf in Pakistan Theatrics

By all means, it was a clumsy, lone wolf attempt to kill Imran Khan at Gujranwala, literally the city of wrestlers on 3 Nov when he was standing atop a container, addressing a crowd. And it was for this very reason the former Prime Minister of Pakistan got away with minor bruises on his right leg though another person near him was killed, and a few were injured, presumably in the melee that followed.

A question that has been doing the rounds is whether the incident can be called an assassination attempt, not because the gunman failed but because of the thoroughly amateurish manner in which the operation was conducted. An ‘assassination’ is carried out by ‘trained’ executioners who would carry something sophisticated and more lethal.

Imran Khan has said that he suspected three men behind the attempt on his life namely Shehbaz Sharif, the Prime Minister, Rana Sanaullah, the Interior Minister and Army’s sleuth in chief, Major general Faisal Naseer, who heads the all-powerful Inter -Services Intelligence, (ISI). But it would be impossible to believe that the three most powerful men in the land of the pure could do no better than engage a callow amateur to aim an ordinary gun at Imran Khan in a crowded place.  

By all accounts, there was no need for the establishment – euphemism for the Army – to hand over the hatchet job to someone who was perhaps on his maiden ‘assassination’ mission and acted nervously. Over the past three decades plus, the establishment has created a whole army of suicide squads and heavily armed terrorists as a part of its Enterprise “Cross – border Terrorism” to needle India.

Only the naïve would expect a fair inquiry into either the attack or Imran Khan’s allegations. He may not be too disappointed with that even as Pakistan struggles to be on the path of political and economic stability.  And he may love to ride the sympathy wave, which, some analysts expect, would last till the country goes to poll next year.

For weeks now, Imran Khan, denouncing the Shehbaz -led ruling coalition as ‘imported’ government, has been asking for early polls. He wants his ‘throne’ back which will be possible only after the dismissal of the Shahbaz government. He is unhappy with the Army Chief Gen Bajwa’s decision to keep the establishment neutral in the unfolding political theatrics. Through back channels and at public meetings he is asking the army to come out openly in his support.

So far, the Sharif government and the army have refused to listen to the swashbuckling cricketer of yesteryears, making him bitter and more determined to rock the nation with his fiery speeches and marches amidst fears of ‘bloodshed’. The gulf between him and his one-time mentors at the GHQ is widening with every day.

Selected prime ministers turning against their props is not a new development in Pakistan.  The apparent difference this time around is that Imran Khan has gone public to say that he was powerless as Prime Minister, and that he, as PM, would not accept anything short of full command over the men in Khaki.

His desire to get on top of the army is making him to lead a two-headed campaign—against the civilian opponents as well as the army. He seems to think that his broadsides against the holy cow, army, would do not alienate the people if they feel he is not ‘weakening’ the army.

Imran’s anti-army tirade is actually directed against some top generals. The middle level officers and even some major generals, not to speak of the soldiers, who are said to be influenced by religious extremists inside and outside the army, are believed to be behind him. Well, Imran himself is riding the Islamist tiger not merely as a short cut to power nirvana but as a matter of his faith and conviction as well.  

There are two realities of Pakistan, which Imran Khan has tried to ignore. One the army is the ultimate custodian of the country’s destiny. Two top civilian leadership has enjoyed both the patronage and the wrath of the generals!      

As prime minister, Imran Khan performed poorly and acted so boorishly and immaturely that the generals who had nurtured him had lost all confidence in him. His flamboyance made enemies by the dozens all across, not just within the country, but also internationally. The US has been a constant target of his rhetoric, Saudi Arabia became suspicious when he joined hands with Turkey and Malaysia to challenge Riyadh’s hegemony in the Islamic world. And, finally, even the all-weather friend China was shaken by lack of protection for its nationals working on multibillion dollar infrastructural projects across Pakistan.

Imran Khan tasted success with his abrasive and immature behavior as a cricketer, but he proved to be a disaster when he applied the same tactics as a politician. It was Gen Bajwa who had to travel to Washington, Riyadh and Beijing to repair the ties.

The results followed quickly as the US facilitated IMF loan sanction as well as exit from the FATF ‘grey list’. Another welcome gesture was the announcement of a $450 million aid for the maintenance of the F-16 fleet that is used almost exclusively against India. 

Anti-Americanism is so deeply ingrained in Imran Khan that he would find it impossible to change himself should he by any chance become the prime minister once again. His Achilles heel will, however, be an inability to improve his behavior or competence level. Also, history bears testimony that a popular leader in power alone does not do much good to Pakistan.  Imran may end up as the lone wolf in Pakistan Theatrics!

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