Defanging Imran Khan and emasculating Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party

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IMRAN KHAN arrested
Former Pakistan Prime Minister and PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested by Pakistan Rangers outside Islamabad High Court (Photo: Reuters)

Para 91 (7), Part III, Chapter 3 of Pakistan’s Constitution stipulates that “The Prime Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.” However, the reality is that in this matter, it’s actually the pleasure of Pakistan’s Army chief that counts and the fate of former prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are just two cases in point.

Cynics may also like to look up Forbes 2018 list of ‘The World’s Most Powerful People’ in which former Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is ranked 68th, and an accompanying remark reads, “Although the president is his boss on paper, Pakistan’s chief of army staff is de facto the most powerful person in the nuclear armed state.” [Emphasis added].

The unsavoury sobriquet ofbeing a ‘selected’ prime minister earned by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI] chief Imran Khan clearly establishes Rawalpindi’s continuing complicity in rigging election results to ensure victory of its selected candidate.

Unfortunately, Khan’s honeymoon with Gen Bajwa didn’t last too long, and it was only a matter of time before their relations soured beyond imagination. That crossing swords with Gen Bajwa would end with Khan losing his chair was a foregone conclusion, but few had imagined that this would be orchestrated by Rawalpindithrough a manipulated no confidence motion.

But, if Gen Bajwa had reckoned that Khan would bow out meekly, he was sadly mistaken. The PTI chief hit back and took the all-powerful Pakistan Army head-on with the characteristic vengeance of a spurned lover. Terming his ouster as a ‘conspiracy’ hatched abroad and executed by forces acting at the behest of foreign powers and dubbed the Shehbaz Sharif government as an ‘imported’ one.

He not only made several uncharitable remarks about the army but even did the unthinkable by praising the Indian army-something considered blasphemous in Pakistan. However, by asserting that the “Indian army is not corrupt and they never interfere in civilian government,” Khan cleverly put Rawalpindi in an embarrassing bind without even naming it.

He even had the gall to take a swipe at Army chief Gen Syed Asim Munir by saying, “There is no rule of law in Pakistan . . . it is run by only one man and that’s the army chief,” and this unkind compliment would surely have enraged the army chief. 

The positive fallout of Khan’s ‘foreign conspiracy’ accusations and his diatribe against the Pakistan Army is that it struck a chord with the masses fed up with Rawalpindi’s unbearable interference in everyday affairs. However, the negative side is that his phenomenal popularity and the abortive attempt on his life presumably gave the PTI chief a false sense of invincibility.

So, pushed his luck too far by continuing to embarrass both the government and military, and so it was but natural that the first thing Gen Munir decided to do after taking over as Army chief was to ensure Khan’s ‘political debilitation’ and this he did by using the simple yet novel stratagem of ‘giving a dog a bad name and hanging him’!

Having foreseen the likelihood of his detention, the wily Khan cleverly shared this apprehension with his supporters as a forewarning. He also made it clear to the ‘establishment’ [as Khan sarcastically refers to the Pakistan Army], that any attempt to arrest him would precipitate massive public unrest and cripple the country. Initially, this threat did act as an effective deterrent. 

Rawalpindi also realised as Khan remained within the bounds of law while taking pot shots against the Pakistan Army, to lure him into taking a wrong step that would ensnare him was difficult. However, having served as the Pakistan Army’s spymaster, Gen Munir seems to have put his practical experience of compromising his victim by identifying and attacking his Achilles heel, which in the PTI chief’s case was his frenzied band of supporters itching for action.

So, it’s quite likely that extraordinarily provocative conditions were intentionally created to provoke PTI supporters into creating a serious law and order problem, which made apportioning blame for the same on the PTI chief an easy job. Besides discreditinghim, this would also portray Khanas an agent provocateur who had incited violence and hence, is liable for legal action.  

Rawalpindi’s plan was, to say the least, an audacious one. Khan was unceremoniously ‘abducted’ like a petty criminal from the premises of Islamabad High Court [IHC] where he had gone in connection with the hearing of one of the numerous cases filed against him. The brazen act of forcibly whisking away the PTI chief in broad daylight and full public view incensed his supporters and acted as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back of the PTI.

It goes to the Pakistan Army’s credit that it left nothing to chance. So, even though its plan to ‘snatch’ Khan from IHC was enough to trigger public unrest, the clever decision of using Rangers [a para-military force officered by the Pakistan Army which is answerable to Rawalpindi] instead of the police to ‘arrest’ the PTI chief made Pakistan Army the prime object of widespread public ire and resulted in the targeting of military installations and facilities on May 9.

The Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] craftily projected the abject failure of soldiers to safeguard military assets as exemplary restraint exercised to avoid civilian casualties. However, this is far from true. Even a lay person knows that the task of protecting military facilities is a non-negotiable assignment that soldiers are duty bound to fulfil even at the cost of their lives. Hence, there’s no question of them not doing so-unless of course specific orders to the contrary were issued.

Moreover, Rawalpindi and Lahore cantonments are virtual fortresses which are accessible through only a few entry/exit points. Designed to thwart large scale terrorist attacks, these are well fortified and heavily guarded and hence, for unarmed mobs to easily breach the same and barge into these cantonments teeming with soldiers, is something that’s a bit too hard to believe.

It could be argued that any inference suggesting that Rawalpindi wilfully allowed PTI supporters to destroy military assets is tantamount to cutting the nose to spite the face. While this observation does have merit, but for an army which can go to the extent of outrightly disowning the dead bodies of its own soldiers killed in combat, allowing arsonists to run riot in army cantonments just for discrediting Khan is no big deal!

Hence, even though Khan’s accusation that “The May 9 was a well-planned false flag operation with the full backing of a controlled media and state institutions only with one purpose, to crush PTI” may sound incredulous, yet the same cannot be summarily dismissed, because as they say-anything is possible in Pakistan! 

The spontaneous attacks on military assets by emotionally charged mobs was made out to be a premeditated conspiracy, and by emphasising that “The events of May 9 have proven what enemies [read- India] couldn’t do in 76 years, a bunch of miscreants and their facilitators did,”[Emphasis added], DGISPR attempted to evoke patriotic feelings. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was more specific and claimed that “India could not achieve its dreams after the 1965 war, but May 9 rioters fulfilled their dream.”[Emphasis added] and this lends credence to Khan’s ‘false flag’ operation allegations.

Today, Khan is a mere shadow of his former self. Debarred by the Election Commission of Pakistan from holding public office for five years, the PTI chief faces a more serious charge under the amended Official Secrets Act for allegedly leaking the contents of a classified diplomatic cipher and misplacing it. But that’s not all-with Lahore anti-terrorism court approving questioning of the PTI chief on the May 9 riot and Sharif stating that “Those involved in the May 9 incidents wanted to overthrow the military leadership,” the road ahead for Khan is definitely not going to be an easy one.

By imaginatively using the carrot and stick, Rawalpindi has successfully broken PTI’s top-rung organisational cohesion while trying rioters [including the PTI chief] in military courts under Pakistan Army Act will ensure that Khan is ‘defanged’.

Yet, like always, Rawalpindi is not leaving anything to chance and it thus requires adequate time for using every trick in the book to oversee the complete political destruction of PTI, for which the stipulated 90 days window between dissolution of the government and the next elections isn’t enough.

Could this have any link with Pakistan election commission’s decision to postpone elections till the time consuming exercise of delimiting electoral constituencies after approval of the 2023 census results is completed?

So, while Khan may have been an undefeatable star cricketer of yesteryears, but with his skilfully delivered ‘googlies’ Gen Munir has convincingly established that he’s very much the present day’s ‘Man of the Match’!

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