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Imran Khan in trouble, crisis in Islamabad

General Javes Bajwa, COAS Pakistan

Imran Khan in trouble, crisis in Islamabad. Is the captaincy over for Khan in Pakistan? What does this mean for a nuclear power in an already turbulent South Asia?

Ahead of the scheduled no-confidence vote this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan has realised his political fate. His party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), is facing an internal revolt, with several Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) deserting the PTI and joining the opposition ranks. A desperate PTI and Imran are befuddled in their response with some reports stating that the PM is ready to forgive dissidents like a ‘compassionate father,’ and on the other hand, some PTI members describing the dissidents as worse than the “prostitutes” and the party issuing show-cause notices to them.

Imran Khan in trouble
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Whatever the outcome of the no-confidence vote, Khan’s leadership of the PTI is already significantly dented, and the party may be staring at a period of political oblivion. 

In Pakistan’s ever-dynamic political situation, last week proved to be particularly precarious for the PTI and set the stage for the political showdown later this week. While earlier, the nine-member opposition alliance ‘Pakistan Democratic Movement’ (PDM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had signed the no-confidence motion against the government on March 8, the internal revolt within the PTI indeed lent it strength.The disgruntled MNAs numbering about two dozen, fearing backlash from the PTI central leadership and the cadres, lodged themselves at the Sindh House, a PPP-run facility. 

They openly threatened to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion.This included Raja Riaz, who accused Imran Khan of failing to control inflation, and Noor Alam Khan, who said that the party had not paid heed to several of his grievances. They said that many PTI MNAs had been long protesting against inflation, corruption, Special Assistants to Prime Minister, and the lawlessness brought by the PTI government. 

These developments led the PTI to accuse the PPP and the rest of the opposition of indulging in “horse-trading.” Imran himself accused the PPP of giving PKR 200 million to one of the dissident lawmakers.8 Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry went to the extent of labelling the Sindh House as the “capital of horse-trading.” Angry PTI workers also stormed the Sindh House to “rescue” the “abducted” lawmakers, but to no avail.

Turbulence in Pakistan’s democracy

These 24 dissident MNAs are crucial for the PTI. In the 342-member National Assembly, the party has 155 members and the support of 23 members from six other parties. It needs at least 172 members to sail through the no-confidence vote. With 24 of its own MNAs turning dissidents, PTI’s task of securing adequate numbers has become even more massive and, in fact, impossible. 

There is also a fear within the party that this revolt may spread further, enlarging the number of dissidents, who may or may not vote in favour of the no-confidence vote but can simply demand removal of Imran to bring in new leadership and allow the government to survive. Imran’s ministers, however, have already nipped in the bud such possibility. Speaking at a press conference on March 18, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi ruled out that the party would accept the ‘Minus-Imran’ formula to steer clear of the current political turmoil.

While the PTI reposes its faith in Imran’s leadership, developments since 2018 make it clear that his leadership style has brought the party and Pakistan to the current political crisis. Since the PTI government was sworn in, there have been questions about the functioning of the Imran’s government, managing the parliament, and tackling the grievances within the PTI. The party had one of the thinnest majority in Pakistan’s recent political history, yet its behaviour was as if it enjoyed the strongest of the majority. 

Imran was seldom keen on consulting the opposition on any business, from the appointments to statutory bodies like the Election Commission of Pakistan or any global developments. Having perceived to have razed the duopoly of PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Khan believed he had rightfully earned his place in Islamabad’s corridors of power. Therefore, he treated the political establishment with disdain even as he courted favour with the military establishment. He targeted the PPP and PML-N through hi-octane anti-corruption drives. But in the end, they yielded nothing beyond symbolism. The declining economic situation and Pakistan’s global standing completed the busting of Imran’s dream of ‘Naya Pakistan.’ 

This autocratic attitude undoubtedly contributed to PTI’s waning political fortunes and ties with other political parties. Even the judiciary seemed to share this perception with the Islamabad High Court charging Imran Khan government of running an ordinance factory and bypassing the parliamentary procedure with ordinances doing the Parliament’s work.

His frequent clashes with the military, such as appointing the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence, also sapped him the “support” of the powerful Army. Imran’s incendiary speech at an election rally in Lower Dir on March 11, where he openly lashed out at the Army and his political opponents, may have sealed any chance of his survival. 

Realising that his captaincy will likely be over soon, Imran has now resorted to what he does best – brinkmanship. He has warned the opposition that he would be more dangerous for them if ousted from power. He has also called for a rally in the capital on March 27 to mobilise his support base or whatever is left of it. But evidently, the die is cast on Imran’s political future.