by Asif Haroon Raja
During his ill-starred 3 years and nine months rule, PM Imran Khan (IK) failed to fulfill his unrealistic promises which disillusioned the people as well as his mentors who had brought him to power.
He failed in good governance, administrative and financial acumen due to his own inexperience in state affairs, and the incompetence of his team. His team selection was poor.
He couldn’t retain hold over his party leaders and the allies due to his arrogance and egotism. Most committed leaders left him and he was left at the mercy of imported advisers, elective officials from other parties, and blackmailing allies.
Corruption and other moral vices increased and so did the foreign debt fiscal deficit, inflation, and prices.
He wasted energies in witch-hunting his political rivals through NAB at the cost of important issues, and without netting a single politician.
No reforms could be carried out due to the policy of confrontation with political opponents.
He failed on the diplomatic front and lost friends.
He distrusted bureaucracy and the police and changed finance ministers, secretaries, and IG Punjab frequently without results.
He signed a loan agreement for $ 6 billion in installments on the most stringent conditions, appointed finance minister and State Bank governor of IMF’s choice, and made the State Bank of Pakistan subservient to the IMF.
He brought the progress of CPEC to almost a grinding halt at the behest of the IMF.
In spite of claims of improvements in GDP and macroeconomics, the country had reached the edge of default.
He relied too heavily upon his mentors and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and compelled them to terrorize his political opponents and to keep the fence sitters in his party and the untrustworthy allies in line. But for the wholehearted support of the military establishment, which he admitted many times, the PTI regime might have fallen much earlier. The moment the crutches were removed, they crumbled.
PTI’s ouster from power
Once the PDM (an amalgam of 12 parties) managed to win the desired number of MNAs in March 2022 with the help of PTI’s dissidents and allies, they planned to initiate the vote of no confidence (VoNC) against IK.
In the backdrop of strained relations of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and IK from Aug 2021 onwards, when Bajwa informed IK that henceforth the army would be apolitical and would no more indulge in politics, IK decided to play up the US cipher from 27 March onwards stating that a conspiracy had been hatched to remove him. The cipher narrative didn’t help him in averting the filing of VoNC on 3 April.
Had he completed his tenure, his popularity graph which had begun to decline in the last quarter of 2021 due to non-deliverance, would have hit rock bottom.
IK’s rise in popularity
IK’s removal from power on 9 April through the VoNC proved to be a blessing in disguise for him. His popularity graph jumped up mainly because of the US cipher conspiracy narrative which he shrewdly played up to deflect the attention of the people from his abject failures during his nearly four years of rule; to demean his detractors; and to draw political benefits. Pretending to be anti-American, he quietly hired a lobbying firm in Washington to mend fences with the USA.
Between April and Oct, he held about 60 public gatherings, and in each of his addresses, he chastised the US, and cast aspersions on the army chief and the PDM leaders soiled their reputation and presented himself as a victim of a premeditated conspiracy whose only fault was to aspire for independent foreign policy.
His offensive posturing and diatribes made him the most popular leader as was seen in the recent by-elections in which he single-handedly won six out of seven NA seats.
The additional advantage he enjoys is the unequivocal support of Pakistani expatriates who have become his diehard fans and are playing a major role in glorifying him internationally and demeaning Nawaz Sharif (NS) and his family living in London.
The PTI could bear the heavy expenses of 126 days sit-in at Isbd in 2014, conducting a sustained media war based on half-truths, lies, and fiction, followed by an election campaign and series of public meetings before, during, and after its rule, because of heavy foreign funding the sources of which were not disclosed.
Failure of 25 May long march
After the fiasco of the long march undertaken on 25 May, IK took a lot of time to give a call for his second long march. From 24 Sept onwards, he remained in two minds and kept postponing the dates hoping that his backdoor channel talks with the military establishment might succeed and the latter would prevail upon the incumbent regime to agree upon holding early elections.
The GHQ made it clear that it would not reverse its decision of neutrality and will refrain from meddling in political affairs, and at best it could help in arranging a meeting with the govt so as to arrive at a mutually agreed political settlement.
Other restraining factors were battling with the Election Commission (EC) and contesting each and every case in the high courts and the Supreme Court. The EC in its verdict on the Toshakhana case disqualified him from the seat of his National Assembly (NA) till the next elections. The decision arrived at by the EC Bench concerning the foreign funding case has been kept in reserve, and can be announced any day, which in all probability will not be in favor of the PTI.
The Shehbaz Sharif (SS) led coalition govt was keen to hold a dialogue with the PTI, but IK riding on the high wave of popularity, and his political power because of being the largest and most popular party, with Punjab, KP, and AJK and GB in his loop, and overconfident of his street power, he rebuffed its friendly gestures rudely, saying that he wouldn’t talk to the cabal of American slaves, thieves, and looters.
IK made his talk conditional to the announcement of the date of elections by the govt.
His arrogance put off the PDM govt, and it is no more interested in a dialogue and wants to complete its tenure by August 2023.
SS wants to carry out crucial reforms, improve the economy, rehabilitate 33 million floods affected, provide relief to the people, and also wants a level playing field before going for the elections.
In his view, the safe return of NS and his clearance from the courts would help in creating conducive political conditions to hold fair and free elections.
IK wants early elections so as to return to power with a two-thirds majority, save himself and his party leaders from the hand of the law, and convict and jail all his political opponents of the PML-N and the PPP.
He also wants the next army chief, the DG ISI and CEC of his choice.
He feels that only then he would be able to fulfill his promises and make Pakistan truly independent, self-reliant, and prosperous.
Objectives so far achieved by IK
His aggressiveness helped him in achieving the following objectives:
· The PTI leaders and activists as well as the supporters both at home and abroad have been sufficiently indoctrinated and energized.
· Giving an Islamic touch in his speeches, and posing himself as Anti-American. Anti-corruption, Anti-establishment, Anti-PDM, he promised real freedom and fully charged up his supporters to wage a Jihad to achieve Azadi (freedom).
· He has inculcated deep-rooted hatred in the minds of his followers against the PDM leaders, the state institutions, and the military establishment through constant brainwashing and feeding false news and cooked-up stories.
· Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has been demonized and given all sorts of insulting titles.
· He has further widened the fissures in society, and created misgivings and negativity in the minds of the armed forces, both serving and retired, against the senior army leadership. He has polarized politics by injecting germs of distrust and revulsion.
· The educated middle class and working class, the majority of the military veterans, a segment of serving officers, the urban youth, and the females have become cult followers of IK. Their behavior has become insolent, unruly, and prone to violence.
· Great majority of the Pakistani expatriates living in the US and in Europe have become diehard fans of IK, and are playing a lead role in glorifying him and in dishonoring his opponents, and spoiling the image of Pakistan.
· PTI’s media cell which consists of websites, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, has got linked up with anti-Pakistan international media. It is deeply involved in coloring the perceptions of the people through fake news, fabricated stories, and powerful narratives to undermine the premier institutions of Pakistan with particular focus on the Sharifs family, Zardari family, JUI-F, and the top brass of the army.
Future Objectives of IK
· IK’s pressure and blackmailing tactics failed to faze the PDM regime. The latter has refused to submit to his demands of early elections, and to select the new army chief by the new govt.
· He now is doing politics over the dead body of journalist Arshad Sharif (AS) who was mysteriously murdered in Nairobi. He is putting the blame for his murder on the establishment and is playing another conspiracy theory. He is claiming that he knows the conspirators and also the ones who are planning to kill him.
· His new narrative has further galvanized his party to take part in the decisive long march in huge numbers. To add grist to his narrative, names of three senior ISI officers are being circulated by the PTI media cell allegedly involved in torturing Shahbaz Gill and Azam Swati in police custody. Initially, they were mentioned as X, Y, and Z (Dirty Harry), but now their names are mentioned. They are also being blamed for forcing AS to flee abroad and then planning his murder in Kenya.
· It was due to a direct attack on the integrity of the ISI, that the DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Anjum held a press conference along with the DG ISPR Lt Gen Babar on 27 Oct. The new narrative of PTI is so explosive and so disconcerting for the military establishment that it compelled the head of ISI to hold a press briefing. It happened for the first time in Pakistan’s history.
· The joint press conference was an effort to defend Gen Bajwa and the ISI, and to dent the credibility of IK by disclosing his back door channels with GHQ and Aabpara, His offer of lifelong extension in service, and possible involvement of ARY CEO and two others in the murder of AS.
· Faisal Vawda’s press conference on 26 Oct was also an attempt to give a clean chit to the establishment and the govt and to scare the people from taking part in the long march by stating that he can see bloodshed and dead bodies on the streets of Isbd in coming weeks.
· The joint press briefing busted the cockeyed narrative of PTI but failed to weaken the resolve of IK and his supporters. He has commenced his long march on the due date with full confidence and is now lambasting the DG ISI.
· What it implies is that whatever little romance that existed between the establishment and IK is over, and both sides have taken off their gloves.
· IK’s long march is a desperate move of a man who has run out of political, constitutional, legal, and moral options, and is left with the sole option of street power to create chaos, and fake news to mislead the people.
· The ongoing long march which stayed the night of 28/29 at Data Durbar in Lahore and the next at Muridke, has become PTI’s salvation. Without storming the capital city, the sitting govt will not relinquish power.
· Without the backing of the establishment or the US, the PTI will be vulnerable to State power.
· In spite of unfavorable conditions, for the sake of power and to remain alive in politics, IK will go to any extent. The lives and suffering of the people and the destruction of the state property do not bother him.
· He is hoping to maximize pressure on the govt by launching three directional long marches from Lahore, Peshawar, and Muzaffarabad and finally assault Isbd.
· He is moving forward the main pincer from Lahore along the GT Road at a slow pace to reach Isbd in a week’s time, so as to give ample time to the military establishment to pressurize SS to submit to his demand of early elections.
· He is hoping for a favorable response once he reaches Gujranwala, as had happened in 2009.
· He is inculcating fear by stating that he has several plans up his sleeves and that his road caravan would be the biggest ever seen in Pakistan.
· The PTI plans to create a dilemma for SS and compel him to delay the appointment of the new army chief and retain Gen Bajwa till the elections. The possible appointment of Gen Asim Munir as the next chief is their biggest worry.
· In deference to the wishes of the Supreme Court, IK has agreed to stage a sit-in at H-9 ground, but the hawks in his party have made plans to enter the Red Zone and provoke the law enforcement agencies to resort to excessive force.
· Reportedly, three PTI leaders Amin Ali Gandapur, Shehryar Afridi, and Qasim Suri in KP are busy collecting arms and fighters to assault Isbd. An audio tape of Gandapur exhorting his henchman to do the needful is going viral on social media. When questioned by a TV anchor he gave a silly explanation saying the weapons and men are being gathered for wild boar hunting. He added that anyone trying to hurt him or his party workers will retaliate with force.
The plan envisages making H-9 Isbd the base of operation, which will be shielded by women and children and made into a picnic spot.
A group of about 15-20,000 young PTI workers (mostly Tiger Force), would be infiltrated into the D Chowk area well before D-Day.
· The infiltrated force would resort to vandalism within the Red Zone in order to paralyze the capital city and to provoke the Army troops to retaliate and open fire in their bid to control the unruly mob involved in the mayhem.
· Few casualties will further stimulate the armed tiger force to hit back with their weapons resulting in bloodshed. The media will sensationalize the occurrence to the hilt and there will be an international outcry.
· IK would then declare the army a rogue army ruled by a demon and the ISI a band of Gestapo that must be blacklisted by the UN.
· In the reckoning of IK and the hawks in his party, this sort of outcome will be the only way to get rid of the imported govt.
Why is IK in such a hurry?
Well-knowing the high risks involved, the reason why IK is in such a great hurry to hold early elections is:
He fears a decrease in his popularity graph if the incumbent regime completes its full tenure till Aug 2023 and manages to show some results.
He is fearing that the foreign funding case verdict might disband his party.
He fears that he might be arrested, convicted, and jailed by the trial courts in the Toshakhana case, or several other cases pending against him.
He fears desertion within his party.
It could be the fear of the appointment of Lt Gen Asim Munir as the new army chief, who during his short stint as DG ISI in 2018 had brought to the notice of IK the misdoings of CM Punjab Usman Buzdar, his wife Bushra, and Farah Gogi. He was promptly posted out without putting his house in order and kept his eyes and ears closed to the corrupt practices of his family and associates which have now morphed into big corruption scandals.
IK’s obsession to return to power has made him so reckless that he has crossed all limits by not only degrading the army chief much more caustically than any other political leader but has also created cracks within the army and the military veterans.
Indian media’s ecstasy
Indian media is ecstatic over the developments in Pakistan. The anchors are exuberantly suggesting IK’s return to power for ten years. Taking advantage of the upheaval in Pakistan, Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh reiterated India’s old commitment to annexing Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Possible counter strokes
Due to the intransigence of the two rivals and their high tempers, the volatile situation is fast hurtling towards chaos and anarchy. The defenders are helplessly watching the building storm and waiting for it to reach Isbd where it intends to fight back the invaders. The latter wearing the cloak of peaceful marchers are in full combat moo. After camping at H-9 for a few days, their paratroopers are likely to breach the security perimeter and enter the Red Zone of Isbd where regular troops are also deployed. Cross-firing will be the worst scenario.
The hawkish elements in the PTI will have to be arrested either during their journey or at H-9. The hitmen and snipers must be neutralized and the hooligans arrested. This is one way of averting bloodshed.
A lot depends on the role of CM Punjab. There are speculations that he, being an establishment man, might ditch IK by withdrawing Punjab Police from protecting the caravan.
So far JUI-F is quiet and has not given any indication to block the marchers from KP to Isbd. It should at a minimum impose caution on them by threatening their tail.
Pressure should be exerted on CM KP to arrest the three PTI leaders reportedly engaged in collecting weapons to resort to violence in Isbd.
Declaration of national emergency is another way to avert bloodshed about which Faisal Vawda has given a clear warning in his press conference.
Now that the DG ISI has decided to defend the reputation of his institution, he will have to come out of the mode of neutrality and twist the tails of the hawkish leaders of the PTI and PML-Q.
The judiciary instead of restraining the marchers has allowed them entry. Another petition is being filed by the govt in the wake of Gandapur’s audio to restrain the marchers from coming to Isbd.
Strict action will have to be taken against the culprits involved in malicious campaigns against the army on social media.
One can only pray and hope that sanity prevails and a mid-way is found, and the two warring rivals agree to sit down and negotiate a political settlement in the best interest of the nation.
In the worst circumstances, Gen Bajwa must be prepared with his contingency plan to declare martial law and take over power.
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja is on the board of advisors for Opinion Maker. He holds an MSc war studies degree. A second-generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war,
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is tri-lingual and speaks English, Pashto, and Punjabi fluently.
Currently, he is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense, and political matters for numerous international/national publications. He is chairman at the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, & Member CWC PESS & Veterans Think Tank
He is also the author of many books; ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, and Roots of 1971 Tragedy’. His latest book is ‘Tangled knot of Kashmir : Indo-Pakistan antagonism: vol. 1 and vol. 2″