Pakistan: How Imran Khan Plotted to Overthrow Sharif’s Government?


 Nauman Sadiq for VT

During Imran Khan’s four months long Dharna (sit-in and political demonstrations) in front of the parliament in Islamabad from August to December 2014, the allegations of election rigging and electoral reforms were only a red herring. A question would naturally arise in the minds of curious observers of Pakistan’s politics that what prompted Imran Khan to make a sudden volte-face?

The stellar success of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections of 2013 was anything but a pleasant surprise for the PTI leadership. Imran Khan and his political party were accustomed to winning only a single seat in the parliament right up to the general elections of 2008 which the PTI boycotted.

In the parliamentary elections of 2013, however, Imran Khan’s PTI mustered 35 National Assembly seats and completely wiped out Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s Pashtun nationalist party, Awami National Party (ANP), and formed a coalition government in the province with the tacit approval of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), because PML-N could easily have formed a coalition government with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

 These facts prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the demonstrations and protests by PTI from August to December 2014 were based on political opportunism rather than any genuine grievances against the government. Imran Khan came forward with a very broad and disjointed agenda: from electoral reforms to the resignation of the prime minister to seeking justice for the victims of Model Town tragedy in Lahore.

When the government agreed to the demand for electoral reforms, Imran Khan began insisting on the unacceptable demand of prime minister’s resignation; and when the people and media criticized him for being unreasonable and causing disruption to the normal functioning of the state, he immediately occupied the high moral ground by drawing attention to the Model Town tragedy.

It seems that Imran Khan’s “wish list” was only a smokescreen to hide his real motive, which was to permanently banish Nawaz Sharif and his family from Pakistan’s politics by sending them into another exile to Saudi Arabia with the help of Imran Khan’s patrons in the security establishment.

 This obstructionist politics by Imran Khan was a clever, Machiavellian strategy; he knew that he couldn’t beat PML-N through electoral process, at least in the next couple of elections. The difference in parliamentary seats was just too big to be easily bridged: PML-N’s 166 National Assembly seats to PTI’s 35.

 Some PTI stalwarts had hinted during the course of 2014 protests that PTI was open to a military takeover for a few years. So, if things had gotten out of hand during the street demonstrations and the army chief had taken over, say for an year or two, and had sent Nawaz Sharif and his family to another decade long exile to Saudi Arabia, the political arena would then have been wide open for Imran Khan.

 PTI could then have easily competed with the only other mainstream political party, Pakistan People’s Party’s 45 National Assembly seats. By wheeling, dealing Imran Khan could have formed a coalition government with the help of the defectors of PML-N who would then have joined the Musharraf-allied PML-Q, which already got cozy to Imran Khan during the 2014 protests.

 Truth be told, Imran Khan’s PTI played the same spoiler role in Pakistan’s politics which the elusive Tamarod Movement had played in Egypt in June 2013, only an year before PTI’s demonstrations in Pakistan. Apart from a small number of Egyptian liberals and Copts, Tamarod was mainly comprised of a few thousand football nuts, known as “the ultras,” who claimed that they had allegedly collected “millions” of signatures endorsing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood, who had only had an year long stint in power in Egypt’s more than 60 years long political history. By what statistical logic, a few thousand cultist demonstrators got the right to forcefully remove an elected prime minister who enjoyed the confidence of tens of millions of voters?

 Most Pakistanis don’t have a clue that how close Pakistan came to yet another martial law in its turbulent history; PTI’s demonstrations in 2014 were not spontaneous uprisings, they were cleverly planned and choreographed by some unconstitutional forces that have a history of subverting the constitution in Pakistan.

Those protests should be viewed in the backdrop of the Euromaidan demonstrations of Ukraine in 2013, Rabaa square massacre of Egypt and the mass protests and the ensuing military coup in Thailand only a couple of months before the announcement of street demonstrations against the government by Imran Khan.

 Apparently the “scriptwriter” of 2014 Dharna first realized the potential of PTI’s zealots to stage a sit-in when the latter blocked NATO’s supply route in Peshawar; it must have then occurred to Pakistan’s security establishment that PTI’s highly motivated youth supporters were very much capable of staging months-long protests against the sitting government.

Notwithstanding, in order to assess the future prospects of PTI as a political party, we need to study its composition. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems the worst decision that Nawaz Sharif took in his political career after returning from exile in November 2007 was his refusal to accept Musharraf-allied PML-Q’s defectors back into the folds of PML-N. After that show of moral uprightness in the essentially unprincipled realpolitik, the PML-Q turncoats joined PTI in droves and gave birth to a third nation-wide political force in Pakistan.

If we take a cursory look at PTI’s membership, it is a hotchpotch of electable politicians from various political parties, but most of all from the former stalwarts of PML-Q. Here is a list of a few names who were previously the acolytes of Musharraf, and they are now the “untainted” leaders of PTI, which has launched a nation-wide “crusade” against corruption in Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen, a billionaire businessman, who was formerly a minister in Musharraf’s cabinet; Khurshid Mehmood Qasuri, who was Musharraf’s foreign minister; Sheikh Rasheed, although he is not officially a PTI leader but during the protests he became closer to Imran Khan than any other leader except Imran Khan’s virtual sidekick, Jahangir Tareen; and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a feudal from People’s Party, who served as foreign minister during the Zardari Administration until he was forced to resign after the Raymond Davis affair in 2011, to name a few.

 Regardless, there were actually two perpetrators that carried out an assault on democracy and constitution during the mass demonstrations against the government in 2014. Imran Khan’s PTI is a nation-wide political party which has a mass following; however, Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran is a subversive organization which is as dangerous the Taliban. The Taliban carry out subversive activities against the government; and in the same manner, Minhaj launched a concerted assault on the paramount institutions of the state: the Parliament, the PM House and the Presidency.

Here, some readers might like to draw our attention to the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in Lahore during the course of which 14 workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police. It was a condemnable and outrageous act and the perpetrators should have been punished; but keep in mind that it was not the first time that Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj had carried out an assault on democracy.

 During the course of PTI’s Dharna, one can make a convenient excuse that Tahir-ul-Qadri was seeking justice for his workers who died in the Model town tragedy; but what was his defense for holding Islamabad hostage in January 2013 before the general elections of May 2013? Those January 2013 protests and sit-in by Qadri were a carefully planned last-ditch effort by the security establishment to delay the elections, which Nawaz Sharif was poised to win and the establishment didn’t want Musharraf’s nemesis to dictate terms to them once again.

It shows that Tahir-ul-Qadri is a habitual offender and that Minhaj is nothing more than his private militia. Bear in mind that Qadri and Minhaj have a lot in common with another establishment-allied cleric: Maulvi Abdul Aziz, and we know that how did the Musharraf’s Administration deal with them in July 2007; Qadri’s club-wielding cult wasn’t different from the cult of Laal masjid and Jamia-e-Hafza.

 Moreover, it appears that the August to December 2014 protests were carefully choreographed. The role played by Imran Khan and PTI was only secondary; the primary role was played by the security establishment’s stooges: Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sheikh Rasheed, Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi. PTI is a broad-based political party which represents the urban middle class; by their very nature such protesters are peaceful and nonviolent. Left to his own resources, the best Imran Khan could have done was to stage a sit-in at Aabpara market for a few days.

Both the violent charges of the demonstrators, the assault on the Red Zone as well as the PM House, were led by the Minhaj-ul-Quran workers. Those hooligans were a bunch of highly organized and trained religious zealots who are equipped with sticks, slingshots, gas-masks, cranes and anything short of firearms; which apparently their organizers forbade them from using in order to keep the demonstrations legit in the eyes of public.

The role played by Imran Khan and PTI in the assault on the Constitution Avenue was only meant to legitimize the assault: the peaceful protesters, women and kids, music concerts, revolutionary demagoguery, everything added up to creating excellent optics; but the real driving force in that assault on democracy was Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran, which is a religious-cum-personality cult comparable to the Rajavis of Iran and their Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or the Gulenists in Turkey.

More to the point, the role played by Sheikh Rasheed during the mass demonstrations in Islamabad should not be underestimated. It brings to light the fact that whoever controls the constituencies of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can bring the capital of Pakistan to a standstill. Protesters from outside the Twin-Cities can only stage demonstrations in front of the parliament for a few days, but the natives of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can stage a Dharna for months. Furthermore, PTI also won 6 out of 14 Punjab Assembly’s constituencies in Rawalpindi, which played to its strength.

 Notwithstanding, if we look at the numbers game in the general elections of 2013: PTI’s 35 National Assembly seats to PML-N’s 166, an upstart party still managed to perform well; but we must keep in mind that PTI won more than 90% of those seats in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. KP, as we know, has been the worst affected province from terrorism; the elections in KP were fought on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which bred resentment and reaction among Pashtuns.

KP’s electorate gave a sweeping mandate to Imran Khan’s PTI which stood for dialogue and political settlement with militants against the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party which favored military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and which was consequently wiped out in the elections. And Imran Khan betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the Pashtun electorate when he endorsed the security establishment-led operation in North Waziristan.

Moreover, to add insult to the injury, when the aforementioned military operation in June 2014 led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, who have since been rotting in the refugee camps in Bannu, Mardan and Peshawar districts; instead of catering to the needs of the refugees, Imran Khan staged a four months long Dharna in Islamabad on the pretext of alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections and to seek justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy.

About the author:

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.


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