Will the PTI fail? Will Imran be prime minister?

Experts and commentators share their take.
Updated 01 Nov, 2016 03:32pm

Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), plan to descend on Islamabad and shut down the federal capital until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns from power. This is the second time in two years that the PTI will be protesting in Islamabad, with their first sit-in lasting more than a hundred days but achieving very little.

We talked to a few experts to have their take on how things might turn out this time.


'The least likely scenario is that Imran Khan might be called to take oath as the prime minister.'

— I A Rehman


What do you think would be the most likely outcome of PTI's protest?

The most likely scenario is survival of the PML-N government with reduced authority or room to manoeuvre. However, the party's vote bank in Punjab could go up.

What does the least likely scenario look like?

The least likely scenario is that Imran Khan might be called to take oath as the prime minister .

What's your view on how the government is handling the situation this time around?

The government seems to have more room to play its hand than it had earlier but lacks the skill to use force with finesse. It is not equipped to deal with large crowds except for relying on batons, teargas and bullets.

Will Imran Khan achieve any of his goals?

Imran Khan will increase his following and give his party a cushion for making more mistakes in KP, but is likely to lose some ground among Punjab's middle class and small scale entrepreneurs. He could also be accused of letting down Punjab. However, he will gain respect for having made corruption the central issue in Pakistani politics.

I A Rehman is a human rights activist and Secretary General, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.



'The question is, what does Khan sahib consider justice?'

— Nadeem Farooq Paracha


What do you think would be the most likely outcome of PTI's protest?

Barring nothing seriously untoward happens, I think the whole thing will begin to wither away mid-November onwards. This is PTI's last great plunge to form some sort of an impression upon General Raheel Sharif before he retires. But I don't think the general is all that interested. Such a commotion does not bode well with the way he has conducted himself. Even if he is retained for another year, he would not indulge those who are in the habit of crying out for a military takeover at the drop of a hat. He won't budge unless the situation becomes genuinely disastrous and threatens the state. The situation, outside TV studios and social media sites, is not that drastic. Yet.

What does the least likely scenario look like?

The fall of the PML-N government. The protests are going nowhere and only the PML-N itself can orchestrate its own downfall.

What is your view on how the government is handling the situation this time around?

The government is handling it just like any government would if an opponent is threatening to topple it through street agitation. Unlike its strategy during the 2014 dharna, the government has decided not to hold back. There are many folks out there who would want the government to take a more decisive stance. But then many among them would also like the government to be as pointed against certain other elements that are far more militant than PTI. It can't pick and choose anymore. There will be questions raised.

Will Imran Khan achieve any of his goals?

The question is, what does Khan sahib consider justice to be? Quite clearly, so far, he hasn't accepted a lot of the decisions dashed out by the courts. So maybe what I consider to be justice is an injustice to him and vice versa. He must continue to operate within a system that is evolving. It's not perfect, but it's there and will continue to evolve for the better. How much longer can he continue to retain his populist bearings? It's as if he believes he will lose a bulk of his support if he doesn't sound angry or retains his radical demeanour. He will have to.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com. He has also authored a book on the social history of Pakistan called, End of the Past.



'Army intervention is the most unlikely scenario.'

— Tahir Mehdi


What do you think would be the most likely outcome of PTI's protest?

I do not think this is a duel between two political parties, with one emerging as a clear winner on November 2.

It is a full-blown palace intrigue that attempts to redraw the power map in Pakistan. Every stakeholder is busy behind the curtains, attempting either to reclaim its territory, sustain its hold, or encroach upon more territory.

The making and breaking of alliances will remain volatile and shrouded in secrecy, with only bits of it played out in public. The tussle is likely to last way beyond November 2. Its outcome will most likely be subtle as well and one would only be able to assess it by future actions of the involved parties.

What does the least likely scenario look like?

Direct intervention by the army. Making their role public will expose them to a number of risks and unwanted situations with negative consequences both in the short and long run. I think they have learnt how to enjoy the game while playing from behind the scenes.

What is your view on how the government is handling the situation this time around?

The government has a plan and is fully prepared, but I think they are taking too many risks trying to isolate the PTI, and this might rebound at them in medium term. For example, the government has managed to stop Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Maulana Samiul Haq from joining PTI but these parties will soon send the government an ‘invoice’ against this service.

Will Imran Khan achieve any of his goals?

Imran is unlikely to achieve his purported goal of securing Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. And a revision of his goal, at this stage, will have a negative impact on his party’s chances in the next elections.

Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.



'The real question is whether people from Lal Masjid or Difa-i-Pakistan Council will join in or not.'

— Fasi Zaka


What do you think would be the most likely outcome of PTI's protest?

I thought that in its initial form, before the government crackdown, the protest would have had disruptive effects for maybe a week maximum, before fizzling out. Except the government response has given the PTI's call to protest more credence than it had before.

I think the most likely scenario is that it will be disruptive for a couple of weeks. However, if there is more high-handedness by the government, it could get a bit out of hand.

The real question is whether people from Lal Masjid or Difa-i-Pakistan Council will join in or not. That's really the wild card and if it does happen, it will be quite disruptive for the people.

What's your view on how the government is handling the situation this time around?

The relations between the government and the army are at a low following the Dawn story. I think Nawaz Sharif has made a mistake by keeping his cards close to his chest: he should have announced the new army chief sometime back. I think the army has been relatively tight-lipped but their anger has been considerable.

The government had to offer someone up for the Dawn story and I think they decided amongst themselves who that person had to be.

It is a boost to the protest as it gives meat to Imran Khan’s claim that the government is a security risk.

Fasi Zaka is a political columnist.



'The protest would have fizzled out had the government not acted in such a ham-handed fashion.'

— Zarrar Khuhro


I think it’s too easy for all of us, journalists in particular, to get lost in the bubble of breaking news. We tend to become ticker-chasers, distracted by the latest update, the latest arrest, the latest lathi charge or the latest road to be blocked by containers. It’s as if we were media accountants, hopelessly bound to a Last In First Out system, with the constant stream of news and noise blanking out our ability to focus on the series of missteps that have led us to this latest impasse.

The crisis begins with an elected prime minister doing everything within his power to avoid even the semblance of an investigation into the Panama leaks; a prime minister who has delayed, obfuscated and counter-attacked at every turn in an effort to muddy the waters and to skew the debate.

Of all the tactics employed by the government, the one that actually may have staved off this latest crisis was the one they did not employ: to actually agree on the terms of reference for the Panama inquiry and to see that inquiry through. Or at least to be seen to be seeing it through.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Imran Khan is only using the Panama issue to depose the government and – somehow – becomes head of state. Let’s also assume that he would have taken to the streets regardless of any inquiry having taken place. Now we would have a weary public looking at a perennially protesting Imran with a great degree of disdain while the government could easily have taken the high road, painting Imran quite successfully as a non-serious and disruptive force. Instead, they chose to evade even the semblance of accountability and thus gave the PTI its causus belli.

Let’s even assume that the nebulous establishment is out to get Nawaz Sharif, a view that is popular in certain circles. Even if that were the case, action by the government on the Panama issue would have taken the wind out of their sails, forcing the ‘invisible forces’ to cook up a new plan. But that didn’t happen.

And so the PTI announced its lockdown, and the government employed every tool in its considerable arsenal to ensure that the protest was quelled before it even began.

The result is that a protest that would likely have backfired on the PTI suddenly gained far more importance than it would have ordinarily merited.

Would the protest have fizzled out had the government not acted in such a ham-handed fashion? I believe it would have, and this is why:

The 2014 sit-in lasted 126 days and may have stretched on further, losing even more momentum and becoming even more of a futile spectacle than it already had. That’s because dharnas of that style are easy to pull off; people come by in the evenings to sing along to revolutionary songs and see the latest performance on the container before going home to return the following evening. Like a never-ending rock festival, it could simply go on and on until declining ticket sales brought it to an ignominious close.

Locking down an entire city, as the PTI says it intends to do, is another matter entirely. Let’s say the government had allowed them to go ahead; how long could the PTI have sustained it? Inside of a week, as parents would have found it difficult to get their kids to school, as workers would have found it harder and harder to get to office, as citizens would have found it impossible to conduct daily business and routine work, public opinion would have turned against Imran Khan. Once again, the PTI would have found itself having bitten off far more than it could chew. All it would have taken is a little patience on the part of the government. As Napoleon said, “never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.”

Prior to the government crackdown, even the determined PTI supporters – suffering from protest fatigue – were privately questioning the wisdom of Khan’s strategy. That they are no longer doing so is evidence enough that the government, regardless of the outcome of this impasse, has once again shot itself in the foot.

Zarrar Khuhro is a journalist and co-host of the TV talk show, 'Zara Hut Kay'.