• 20 June, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

Who Is Rocking Imran Khan’s Boat?

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Sun, 27 Mar 2022   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

Almost two years ago, I had written the highly successful but controversial article — “Is Pakistan Heading For Another Dictatorship.” Many people, including Pakistanis, objected to the articles’ findings, stating that in modern-day Pakistan, there is no place for a coup. I had explained to them how this modern-day dictatorship would play out.

The present-day reality is that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is being challenged to prove his majority in the National Assembly. What I wrote about two years ago is going to unfold in front of us as a well-calibrated, and step-by-step plan.

The Undoing

In the Pakistan National Assembly, out of 342 seats Imran Khan needs 172 seats to prove his majority and remain in power. He has 155 Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and rest of the shortfall was being made up by support from the allies. Khan has been challenged in the past and sailed through without any hitch.

For a long period, Pakistan’s opposition parties were divided and bitter enemies; however, with Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) they are putting a united opposition to Imran Khan’s government. The situation has been exacerbated by defection of over a dozen party members and withdrawal of support by the allies. The opposition parties had submitted a no-trust motion in the National Assembly secretariat on 8th March. However, speaker of Pakistan’s parliament has been using delay tactics to stall the no-confidence motion.

Under The Surface

Now all this is happening above the surface; what is happening behind closed doors and under the surface is the reality. The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is called a ‘selected’, rather than an elected Prime Minister. There is a truth to it. To explore that, we have to go a couple of years back.

Imran Khan came to power in 2018. He may keep thinking that he came to power on his own, but the reality is that the Pakistani Army created him. It was a genius ploy by Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa. Bajwa’s term was coming to an end in 2020. He wasn’t powerful enough to carry out a coup, but smart enough to create a puppet government and extend his military life.

The creation of a puppet government had two advantages. Firstly, the Army would steer clear of the blame for the precarious economic condition that Pakistan was in. Secondly, the extension of Bajwa’s tenure would be a legitimate one.

Imran Khan was brought to power without sufficient numbers so that he is never comfortable, and at any point if he was not playing ball, he could be dislodged. Imran played along most of the time. As promised, he gave extension to General Bajwa as Chief of Army Staff. But of late he had developed a mind of his own, and this was not part of the script.

The Unstable Prime Minister

Imran Khan was known to go on a tangent on regular basis. It was okay with the Army and Bajwa till the time it wasn’t affecting them. To start with, for no rhyme or reason, he created a parallel-group with Turkey and Malaysia. The move had no particular benefits for Pakistan, instead, it damaged its relationship with Saudi Arabia. It also resulted in decreased remittance and stoppage of loans/aid from the Gulf nations.

The Army had no problems if Khan was calling Germany and Japan neighbours who share a border, or addressed nurses as ‘Hoors’ (Islamic angels), or called Osama bin Laden a ‘Shaheed’ (martyr), or describing Indian population as 1 billion and 300 crores, instead of 136 crores or 1.3 billion.

The Army couldn’t care less about any of it, however, when he grew wings and started challenging the Army, the Army brass and especially Bajwa got worried. The first challenge from Imran came when he dragged his feet on the selection of the all-powerful Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Chief. The Army Chief generally selects the Director-General ISI, and the Prime Minister is merely a rubber stamp. The Army had proposed the name of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum. However, Khan delayed the selection for weeks and relented only after immense pressure from Bajwa.

For some time now, Khan has become even more vocal against the Army. In one of the rallies, he said that even an Army general has to prove his competence to get promoted. In the recent past when the Army stated that they are neutral in the present political turmoil, Khan said, “Only animals are neutral.”

General Bajwa may swallow all this, but it looks like Khan is not ready to give him another extension as Chief of Army Staff. I had written two years ago that if that situation arises then there would be chaos in Pakistan. Bajwa is due for retirement in November 2022, and turmoil is knocking at Pakistan’s door.

The American Angle

In addition to rubbing Army the wrong way, Khan challenged the United States and its hegemony in the region on many occasions. Under his leadership, Pakistan denied assistance to Americans in Afghanistan. After the embarrassing exit of the United States from Afghanistan, the Pakistani establishment poked fun at the Americans and went on to say that Afghanistan has “broken the shackles of slavery”. Imran Khan and his coterie promoted the cause of the Taliban mindlessly.

All said and done, the United States is still the most powerful nation globally. Even China thinks twice before challenging the US. In addition, the Pakistani generals have personal interests in the western countries. Their families live and work in those countries and not in China, Turkey or Russia. Their ill-gotten wealth from illegal land grab to drug smuggling is also stashed in western countries, and Pakistani generals are not going to part with this wealth for the sake of Imran Khan. They rather connive with the US and replace Imran Khan with a more suitable candidate, than lose all that.

The Chinese Interest

Even China can smell the change in the air. Deputy Head of Mission of the Chinese Embassy, Pang Chunxue met with the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) leaders. She conveyed to them that China wants a “politically and economically stable” Pakistan. China could be lobbying ever harder behind closed doors.

Once again, China couldn’t care less if Pakistan is stable or not. In fact, a poor Pakistan would remain under the Chinese thumb much more readily. Therefore, their only worry is recovery of billions of dollars given as loan to Pakistan, mostly related to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Rising militancy or political instability in Pakistan jeopardizes those investments. The Pakistani generals and their families are also well entrenched in many of these projects. Any setback to these projects would affect their wealth too. They would sacrifice many Imran Khans for the continuity of businesses.

Has Imran Khan Got An Ace Up His Sleeve

Khan on 23rd March stated that he would not tender his resignation rather shake the opposition on the eve of the no-trust motion. He said, “I will spring a surprise on the opposition one day before voting. One day before the election, I will lay my card out. While the opposition has already shown all of its cards, it will be known who resigns.”

So, what has Khan got up his sleeve? One contentious issue is that Bajwa may not go out graciously. If he installs another puppet Prime Minister to further his agenda, then one of the following officers would miss the chance to be next Army Chief, Corps Commander Rawalpindi Lt. Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt. Gen. Azhar Abbas, Lt. Gen. Nauman Mahmood Raja, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Aamer, Lt. Gen. Chiragh Haider Baloch. and Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad Anjum Sheikh.

Has Imran Khan taken one of them in confidence to stage a counter-coup? Is it Lt. Gen. Mirza or Khan’s confidante Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed? Is he banking on his 27th March, ‘million-man’ rally which is being compared to Donald Trump’s 6th January Capitol Riots. Only the time would tell.

All said and done, by early April, it would be evident, whose ambition got better of him. However, one thing is clear that the biggest problem with Imran Khan was that he got ambitious beyond his reach. He could not decide whether he wanted to be a Pakistani messiah and resurrect Pakistan’s economy or be a world-class statesman and shake up the world order. Most say he was none.

Ambition without intelligence is a quagmire, faster one wants to run, deeper one gets bogged down” ~ Insightful Geopolitics


A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.


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Kalidan Singh

Apr 03, 2022
Great article. Thanks


Apr 01, 2022
NostraDhawanus! Well researched and accurate! You seem to have got under the skin of Xi and now IK. Lots of planetary changes happening too in end March / April. Next time you can add an Astro angle! Want to know what's Xi upto now he seems to have gone silent at LAC and Taiwan! Is something cooking. Keep writing!

CB Gupta

Mar 30, 2022
👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 Excellent sum up about the turmoil in Pakistani.

Captain PK Misra, Indian Navy

Mar 28, 2022
Very well written article.

Rajesh Dhawan

Mar 28, 2022
Once again given total perspective in nutshell. Nice, simple reading to understand complex story. At present the army showing that they are neutral though they are trying since long to throw out Imran Khan. Imran Khan is also good player and playing well on sticky pitch. His wife Bushra Begam has saved him so far with her black magic. Bushra Begam will not allow him to leave the Chair and Military will not allow him to remain there. Wait for his googly.

Narinder Pal Singh Hora

Mar 28, 2022
Another interesting read. Imran Khan or anyone else, it doesn't matter. The shots will always be called by the army. There is so much at stake for Pakistani Army commanders in form of investment in businesses, infrastructure and much more. Being in armed forces, for them, is not about patriotism but gateway to serve self interests

Manoj Kumar Singh

Mar 28, 2022
A very well articulated situation in Pakistan. China seems to be dominant player along with the Army in the back ground. Chinese have already been aggrieved by Imran's criticism of CPEC on may occasions. But the bigger question is whether or not PDM can hold out together? That is really questionable. A thought provoking article Sandeep. Thanks

Vijay Nair

Mar 28, 2022
Super article as always Sandeep👍 Here are my comments/Lunch time gyan The vac for Chairman Jt Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC) when Gen Nadeem retires is also coming up. So 2 vacs - though COAS is the man to be. You have iden the senior-most offrs - with X Corps Cdr Gen Shamshad Mirza being seniormost. But then in Pak its more of an exception than a rule for the sr-most to become Chief. Among the Gens you have placed on the starting block - let’s place our bets. All depends on whether the PM (who is technically supposed to select from the list provided by the outgoing Chief) gives priority to their Eastern borders or to Talibani Af & security of the CPEC, as the primary National Security obj. I’m placing my bet on Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, ex DG ISI (No 4 in seniority) for the fwg reasons:- # He was a key figure in successfully handing over Af to the Taliban, giving Pak the much-sought after ‘strat depth’. # Not only did he supervise the trg, sup of arms & amn to the Taliban, he also coord ops of SSG to shatter the Panjshiri National Resistance Front, pushing them from NE Afghanistan into Tajikistan. # As XI Corps Cdr, Gen Hameed now is the Pt of Contact (has the ears of) Haqqani nw (Peshawar Shura), Def Min (Quetta Shura) & probably the key negotiator with TTP to goad them to a temp ceasefire (Op Zarb-e-Azb) in KPK. Pak can then focus on security of CPEC, & hope that the economy swings in the right direction. # XI Corps dominates both the Khyber Pass & the Wakhan corridor, which juts into Xinjiang. #Gen H seems to be in Imran’s good books as well as Bajwa’s - the indication being the ‘cabinet reshuffle’ of Corps Cdrs wherein Gen H was approved as Corps Cdr in Nov 21, giving him the eligibility criteria by Nov 22. (Any Gen to become Chief requires an yr tenure as Corps Cdr). He has a good chance, provided:- > Imran remains PM after the No Confidence motion. > Gen Bajwa completes his extraordinary six-year tenure in Nov & condescends to retire, w/o seeking another two-year extn. Its a different thing that after becoming COAS Gen H could hang the PM (literally not just figuratively). He reportedly has a couple of girlfriends, political court cases etc - hallmark of a good (powerful, ambitious & political) Pak Gen.

Rajneesh k Mahajan

Mar 28, 2022
Precise, incisive and insightful. Let your pen flow.

Ashutosh Bahuguna

Mar 28, 2022
An apt analysis...Saudis are also not very happy with Imran for his failed attempt to be the leader of OIC and so is Taliban.He further antoganaised the US by visiting and praising Russians on the day of invasion ...And of course the economic conditions and unrest among commoner ...He has to go

Mirtunjay Thakur

Mar 28, 2022
Intriguing subject explained in a simple manner with in-depth research


Mar 28, 2022
Precise and insightful article. So much chaos already going on around the world sadly no lesson learnt by it. Pakistan army with their selfish motives are drowning their country.


Mar 28, 2022
Intriguing spy vs spy

Cdr MCV Jose (Retd)

Mar 28, 2022
Dear Sandeep, Excellent analytical work! You have aptly brought out the corruption in the Pakistan Army and their selfish motive to have puppet government to safeguard their interests. No-one in power in Pakistan seem to be bothered about the economy of the country or the poor people's welfare. The one's in power feeds the anti India rhetoric and exploit the emotional hatred of Pakistan against India. Time will tell whether Pakistan would also go the Afghanistan way or there would be a revolution by the poor citizens! Regards Cdr MCV Jose (Retd)

Rakesh P

Mar 28, 2022
Very well explained. The simplicity of your language and method of conveying is fantastic. Even a layman can grasp the message.

Ashish Popli

Mar 28, 2022
The article has aptly covered the milder and more nuanced tectonic undercurrents creating the present day rumblings in our neighborhood. The beneficiaries off of Pakistan...Army, US and China will contribute to the direction of the fall / balkanisation / resurrection of this nation. While it has a history of having seen more than its share of coups..another one won't come as a surprise but with its financial woes and too many hydras of terror support, wahabi influence through Saudi, China's desperate need to prove CPEC a success, India not ready to talk, US stinging after Afghan fiasco and diminishing importance of Pak for EU and US...these do not attract the Army to hold the reigns. The surprise ace in Imrans sleeve, which the author talks of, well, that would be a solace to many countries. The world does not need another another chaos on its hand. A fine article which sums up the situation in a crisp hand.

Aninda Mukherjee

Mar 28, 2022
Incisive. Interesting food for thought.


Mar 28, 2022
Thank you Cdr Sandeep, for your insightful articles. I’m always looking forward to the next one. Request you to also write on Nepal China relations and its impact on India, whenever possible.


Mar 28, 2022
Pakistan is a bundle of contradictions & is sinking....there's no help of any kind and jingoism doesn't ward off hunger....Imran or military rule, the entire ship is sinking into a morass & they hv no clue as to the next course of action...it's a problem for India too as Af through Pakistan wd be a homogeneous territory of anarchic politics & economies that's soaked in religious fanaticism....India ought to just help break the whole nation into splinters, nuke or no nuke threat

Sanjay Jha

Mar 27, 2022
Articulate, precise & well written...Well done.

Wendell Bruges

Mar 27, 2022
It is a treat to read your scholarly articles. Thank you so much for your dedication & efforts.

Rinku Bhatia

Mar 27, 2022
Very well written


Mar 27, 2022
An excellent and well researched article

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