Puppet versus puppeteer: Will Pakistan Army accept challenges thrown by Imran Khan?
Russia has waded into the choppy waters of Pakistani politics by stating that the US wanted to punish Imran because of his visit to Moscow
The drama in the National Assembly over dismissal of the no-confidence motion against the Imran Khan government and immediate dissolution of Parliament while calling for fresh elections--all within minutes in a synchronized manner, has thrown Pakistan into a constitutional crisis.
Imran Khan had been hinting of a surprise in his public addresses and he did not disappoint. Historically, it has always been the Pakistan army which has subverted the constitution, whenever it desired. For the first time an elected, or as is globally accepted, a selected Prime Minister has done the same and thereby, challenged the Pakistan army to act against him. The battle is currently in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Arguments within political parties on whether the Supreme Court has the power to overturn a decision taken in the National Assembly are going on. It has been argued that since the Parliament cannot discuss court decisions, the Supreme Court cannot discuss Parliament’s rulings. The President defended himself by stating that he has to adhere to the advice of the Prime Minister, whether right or wrong. Imran Khan played his googly perfectly, exploiting loopholes in the constitution.
Imran had through his tenure failed on the economic and diplomatic front, pushing Pakistan into an economic morass and diplomatic isolation. It was for this reason that the army had silently backed the no-confidence motion, enabling the worst of enemies in the opposition to join ranks.
Differences between Imran and Bajwa were on public display during the Islamabad dialogue, where both had opposing views. Simultaneously, Imran has been playing the religious card, his individual honesty and projecting himself as the saviour of Pakistan. Supporting religious groups gives him an advantage. He remains popular as Pakistan’s cricket world cup winning captain. Imran hopes to win the next election, with or without army support.
Imran is also aware that the opposition does not desire immediate elections. It would establish a consensus government, expose Imran and his PTI’s corruption and task various accountability bodies to pursue him. This could push Imran away from the limelight and place him at the same level as other politicians. It may also debar him from contesting or holding public office. Thus, the safest solution is immediate elections, with a neutral caretaker government, which lacks such powers. Hence, he had to act before he was thrown out of the chair.
Two nations are most hated in Pakistan, the US and India. Every terrorist strike in Pakistan is blamed on India. Fake news on Kashmir floods Pakistan’s vernacular media daily adding to an anti-India sentiment. Imran’s ranting on no talks or trade with India till reverting of article 370 made him locally popular. However, blaming India for planning his ouster may have been giving too much to RAW. Thus, he chose to name the US.
The US is displayed in Pakistan as India’s ally and hence anti-Pakistan. It is blamed for drone strikes on its soil as also human and economic losses due to the war on terror. US President Joe Biden ignoring Imran and refusing to speak to him, since assuming power in January 2021, further hurt Imran’s ego. The US is also considered a nation of infidels. Most Pakistanis supported the Taliban, on religious grounds, against the US. By blaming the US, Imran sought national sympathy, disregarding that deteriorating ties with the US could be damaging. To add fuel to fire, Imran accused US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, as the individual responsible for demanding his exit.
On the contrary, the Pakistan army has been attempting to win the US over, aware of ground reality that it needs American military and economic support. Major differences between Bajwa and Imran stem from this. The immediate impact of dissolution of the National Assembly was the IMF announcing suspension of further loans.
In addition, Pakistan would remain on the FATF Grey List. Currently, inflation is at an all-time high of over 12% while the Rupee has broken all records and is at Rs 185 to a dollar and rising. With no government at the centre the economy would only sink further.
Russia waded into the choppy waters of Pakistani politics by stating that the US wanted to punish Imran because of his visit to Moscow. This comments enhanced the internal divide between General Bajwa, who recently blamed Russia for the invasion, and Imran, who sought to display neutrality in the conflict. Russia also supported Imran Khan’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly and call for fresh elections. It added fuel to Imran’s accusation of Donald Lu by mentioning that Lu called the Pakistan ambassador in Washington demanding Imran cut short his visit to Moscow.
The Chinese in a statement mentioned that it supports Pakistan through the crisis as also its projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would continue. However, the reality is vastly different.
While Pakistan seeks rollover of due USD 4 Billion loans, the CPEC has virtually come to a standstill. The Chinese have realized that they are sinking good money after bad. Chinese power companies are demanding payment and cutting down supply adding to the woes of the common man. With a deteriorating economy, the mess would continue.
The Pakistan army has thus far maintained silence and stated it is neutral. It is aware that by interfering directly it could be accused of subverting democracy, an act Imran has already done. It is possibly playing behind the scenes to ensure that judgment delivered by the Supreme Court remains in its interest. The Supreme Court had failed to criticize or declare earlier coups and changes in constitution by military rulers arbitrarily as illegal. If it fails again, it will prove that Pakistan is a banana republic, and its constitution can be violated at will by anyone in power. If it acts, it could lead to Imran instigating protests to remain in power.
As a puppet, Imran has challenged his master. This is unacceptable in Pakistan. How will the Supreme Court and army respond to it--is to be seen. Coming days are going to be interesting.
***The author is a commentator on strategic issues; views expressed are his own