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Imran Khan’s Winter of Discontent Approaching

Sushant Sareen Fri, 17 Sep 2021   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

The great paradox of Pakistan politics is that the stronger a leader appears, the weaker he becomes; conversely, the weaker a leader appears, the more stable his government becomes. The latter, because he isn’t seen as a mortal threat to anyone. To survive he keeps compromising. This removes the urgency to get rid of him, which can be done anytime, because he seems weak. The former, because the arrogance of power makes leaders take steps which rile their opponents. The threat to their personal and political survival forces the opposition to fight back. Often this means machinating with the ‘military establishment’ to bring down the government, or at least force it on the back foot. This iron law of Pakistani politics is once again manifesting itself.

Just a few weeks back, it seems Imran Khan had consolidated his political position. His party had notched wins in Pakistan-occupied Ladakh (Gilgit Baltistan) and Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). These victories were followed by winning a by-election in Sialkot from his main political rival, PMLN. The Army appeared to be backing him completely. The opposition was in disarray – the much vaunted Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) had lost steam and the PPP and ANP had parted way with the opposition front. The main opposition party PMLN was riven with internal differences between Shahbaz Sharif and his charismatic crowd puller niece Maryam Nawaz Sharif. Using classic fascist tactics, Imran Khan had hounded opposition leaders into submission by instituting fake cases against them, and jailing many of them.

Meanwhile, he and his cronies threw all constitutional and political propriety to the winds by ramming through more than a score controversial laws through the National Assembly. Despite knowing that there was no consensus on electoral reforms, the ‘selected’ regime worked overtime to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) which the opposition alleged was nothing but a ploy to scientifically steal the next elections. Even though the Pakistani media had been reduced to being a mouthpiece of the regime, Imran Khan and his camp followers were not satisfied. To completely muzzle the media, they worked towards introducing a new media regulatory authority which would effectively make the already subservient and obsequious media into PTV clones. There was also an assault on the judiciary, especially the inconvenient judges of the superior courts. Even though the reference that the government had filed against a future chief justice had collapsed, the regime persisted in targeting the judge. The Election Commission and its chief was also in the cross-hairs of the minions of the regime.

Many seasoned observers questioned the wisdom of opening so many fronts simultaneously. But this was like water off a duck’s back. The way Imran Khan saw it, he enjoyed the complete support of the army brass which really had no political option other than him. As long as the generals supported him, Imran Khan could get away with murder. For the military, apart from the lack of a viable domestic political alternative, there was also the external situation to worry about. The endgame in Afghanistan had commenced and the last thing the military could afford is a political crisis at home, which worked well for Imran. The swift capture of Kabul by the Taliban was also claimed by Imran Khan’s flunkies as his success. Displaying cringing sycophancy, the President of Pakistan even went to the extent of asking world leaders to become pupils and devotees of Imran Khan for his wisdom and foresight on Afghanistan. Within Pakistan, the triumphalism over the Taliban victory was followed by talk of how Pakistan would now emerge as the centre of the global economy.

Just when it appeared that Imran Khan was unassailable, and there were even rumours that he was so chuffed up that he was considering holding early elections a year before schedule, things started to unravel. The multiple fronts Imran Khan had opened, all have started to pushback almost simultaneously. The opposition suddenly has shown some signs of coalescing and getting its act together. The

The situation soon reached a point where something had to give. The PDM has been revived, albeit without the PPP which in any case is quite irrelevant outside of Sindh. In Sindh, the way PPP was targeted by Imran’s party has raised its hackles. Meanwhile, there is a visible softening of stand of the Nawaz Sharif and his PMLN towards the military establishment. The Cantonment board elections in which Imran Khan received a drubbing in Punjab is seen as a barometer of the sentiment sweeping through the province which is seen as Pakistan’s ‘controlling authority’. The Election Commission too has dug in its heels over the plans of the fascist regime to rig the next elections using the EVMs. The attempts of the government to stack the Election Commission with its cronies, and give an extension to the scandalous anti-corruption czar (who is seen as being morally and financially corrupt and politically aligned to the regime) is also causing lot of restiveness in the political domain. The media which was quite comfortable acquiescing to every diktat of the fascist regime, has been pushed to a point where it is now pushing back.

For two days last week, the entire who’s who of the Pakistani media was protesting in front of the Parliament against the proposed Media regulations. Even journalists who were seen as lackeys of the Imran regime were seen protesting against the attempts of the government to muzzle the media. Another potent challenge has started to come from the legal community. The lawyers are extremely agitated with the government and many judges of the superior courts against the attempts to stack the judiciary with favourites. The discontent in the civil service is brewing because of the colossal mismanagement of the regime and its cronies with transfers of top officials taking place like people change clothes. Not surprisingly administration is in a total funk with no decisions being taken, no planning taking place, and everyone merely biding their time. The traders are also seething because of highhandedness of ministers who have given targets to officials to book traders and fine them as part of government attempts to control runaway inflation.

The economy is meanwhile once again entering dire straits. The trade deficit is ballooning and the country is staring at another balance of payments crisis in not too distant a future. The Pakistani rupee is tumbling. In the last 4 months is has fallen from around 152 to a dollar to 170. The government has sold over $5 billion to stabilise the rupee, but to no avail. Inflation is making lives of ordinary folk impossible. Food inflation has been in double digits. Energy prices are rising. There are no jobs in the market. Meanwhile the IMF has not restored its programme which is fuelling more uncertainty in the market.

Add to all this what appears to be a pyrrhic victory in Afghanistan. While the Pakistanis might have successfully invaded and conquered Afghanistan using their Taliban proxies, it has exacerbated the problems for Pakistan. There is a spike in terrorism in the Pashtun belt. And while that doesn’t really hurt Punjab (which is all that matters for Pakistani rulers), Afghanistan is now a major drain on the already financially tottering Pakistan. A lot of the Afghan imports are now being routed through Pakistan because of the collapse of the banking system in Afghanistan. Similarly, the demand of Afghans for dollars has led to pressure on the Pakistani rupee because dollars are now being smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Even as the refugee crisis looms large over Pakistan, there are food and other goods that Afghans need that are now causing shortages inside Pakistan.

As if all this were not enough, there are fears that Pakistan could soon face sanctions, or at the very least face an economic squeeze from the US and its allies. While the military establishment has been trying to play it soft, Imran Khan’s arrogance and abrasiveness has not been helping matters. He and his ministers have been taking pot-shots at the US and other Western countries, deriding them, even daring them. Pakistani analysts have been warning that the mood in the West is quite ugly and patience with Pakistan is running dangerously low. Already doubts are being expressed over the extension in the GSP+ status that the EU had given to Pakistan. If the status is withdrawn, Pakistan’s exports will take a big hit. There is also a growing sense that Pakistan is unlikely to be off the hook in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Foreign investment has fallen, and domestic investment is virtually non-existent.

By all accounts, a perfect storm is building against the selected regime. Will the mumbo-jumbo and the ‘spells’ that his Rasputin-ish wife casts save him from the winter of discontent that is approaching? Will the army review its support for Imran Khan and dump him? Is the no-confidence motion that has been moved against the Balochistan chief minister the first sign that the military is now washing its hands off this disastrous regime which it foisted on the people of Pakistan? In the past, change in Islamabad invariably came via Quetta. Will it be different this time around? Or is the storm that everyone is anticipating nothing but a storm in a tea-cup? The answers to these questions will become clear in the next couple of weeks.

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Author
Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. An expert on Pakistan and Terrorism, his published works include Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (2017), Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s Comprador model of investment in Pakistan (2016). 

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POST COMMENTS (2)

Tushar Rastogi

Sep 21, 2021
To the point... very much agreed.

Rajan Bhardwaj

Sep 18, 2021
Totally agree with u sir.

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