A Thousand Cuts
Despite the pitfalls, Imran Khan’s supporters remain glued to him and dismiss all criticism.
For many months now, the politics of Pakistan has been in the state of a roller coaster ride, with the same level of excitement and, of course, fear. The year 2018 saw Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf forming the government at the federal level, and also in the most populous Punjab province, though with the help of a powerful establishment and resourceful politicians like Jahangir Tareen. Surprisingly, the coalition governments included the MQM-P and Pervaiz Elahi against whom Imran Khan had been most vocal in the past. That meant for Imran Khan, grabbing power was the prime objective, to attain which, he did not mind resorting to expediency and sacrificing his principles, if any.
By the time IK had completed just over three and a half years at the Centre, he had lost the support of many of his close associates, as well as the Establishment, which had helped bring him to power. He also unduly criticized the judiciary.
Then, terribly disappointed over the lack of progress in the implementation of PTI’s Karachi package, the MQM-P’s switching sides finished his government at the Centre. And despite being the largest single party in the National Assembly, PTI resigned en masse from it. By the way, MQM-P’s agreement with the Pakistan Peoples Party, which Shahbaz Sharif had signed as a guarantor, also failed to produce results. As such, MQM-P’s grievances remained unaddressed, while the suffering of Karachiites multiplied, with a dummy continuing as the City Administrator.
The events in Punjab proved even more dramatic. PTI’s exit from the Punjab Assembly was organized through a Zardari-brokered deal based on defection of PTI members. Even though dissenting members’ votes were not counted, they reduced PTI’s majority, thereby enabling the PML-N to form its government there. However, it proved short-lived because during by-elections held on vacated seats, PTI managed to win 15 seats, thereby gaining overall majority in Punjab, the province which hosts more than half of the total Pakistan’s population and acts as a kingmaker and breaker because of its substantial presence, both in civilian and military establishments.
For a change, Imran Khan did not bring back his Waseem Akram Plus as the head but selected Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the Chief Minister even though he belongs to PML-Q. This unexpected reversal of fortunes does not say much for the so-called Shahbaz speed or efficiency, or even about the PML-N which, apart from being the sitting government, had ruled Punjab off and on for decades. This has even finished off the myth of Maryam’s oratory and popularity.
The main reason for PTI’s comeback in Punjab was that the gullible Imran-fans had taken his claim about ‘American conspiracy to oust him’ as gospel, thus taking his popularity sky-high while the PML-N’s top leadership stood accused, even sentenced for corruption.
It was thought that with his popularity at its peak after winning back Punjab, he will order dissolution of assemblies under PTI control, thereby forcing the government to hold general elections. Strangely, Imran Khan seems to be in no hurry to leave assemblies this time and perhaps wants to establish some sort of performance record.
In the meantime, there have been many negative developments at local and international levels which could upset Imran Khan’s calculations. The ECP has finally announced its verdict regarding the PTI prohibited/foreign funding case and it does not sound too good, putting it mildly. There are reports originating within and outside the country about funds raised for building hospitals and university diverted and used for political purposes. There is also a report of substantial funding by a foreign government official. Moreover, undisclosed accounts were found, with some maintained in the name of party officials. In the coming days and weeks, these could create serious problems for the PTI and its leadership.
There is also the Toshakhana case which casts aspersions on the person believed by his followers to be infallible. We have also seen reports of substantial recoveries made by the National Crime Agency of the UK which the agency wanted to return to Pakistan. However, through a sleight of hand on our side, the amount allegedly ended up benefiting the culprits and bringing windfalls to some influential persons in Pakistan.