Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

PM Imran Khan is getting there. Preparing explanations for his possible fall from power.

He has warned that he will vanquish the opposition in a more aggressive manner if he is ousted. However, before he came to power in 2018, he had waited, rather impatiently, to come to power so that he could gain access to all the goodies he needed to demolish his opponents.

For long, he had been promising to wipe out ‘corrupt elites’. But after being in power for almost four years, the nature of his rhetoric has returned to being what it was before he came to power.

Does this mean he has failed to wipe out corruption and vanquish the opposition when in government? Yes. In fact, increasingly, his own government is now facing certain accusations. These accusations, which contradict the PM’s lofty rhetoric, are now making their way into the courts.

With a possible ouster hanging over his head, a deluded and desperate PM Imran Khan is changing his narrative

They include misuse of state institutions and executive powers to browbeat the opposition, the media and certain members of the judiciary, and, allegedly, to hide funds that Khan’s party received from various ‘illegal’ sources. The jury is still out on them.

But the manner in which his regime has bungled the economy, there is every likelihood that there won’t be many people lamenting his ouster if the opposition succeeds in doing this through a planned no-confidence motion.

The current tone and content of his rhetoric suggests that he might actually be anticipating an ouster — especially when there is growing evidence that the top gear in his shaky vehicle has decided to shift itself into neutral.

That gear is the military establishment. The military establishment seems to have decided to give up on him after witnessing its own credibility erode because of his regime’s numerous economic and foreign policy blunders and gaffes.

So, with a possible ouster hanging over his head, Khan has intensified his now not-very-new-rhetoric against corruption and the ‘corrupt elite’ (who just so happen to only be in parties sitting on the opposition benches in the parliament). However, what is new in this respect is his growing criticism of European countries and of the US.

The outcome of this rhetoric will be a narrative that he will wave in public if ousted — i.e. ‘I was ousted by a grand conspiracy hatched by corrupt opposition parties, in league with European countries and the US.’ Apparently, the opposition wants to oust him for his ‘jihad against corruption’, and the West wants him gone because he is constructing ‘a truly sovereign foreign policy.’

In fact, as if on cue, many of his ministers, some TV anchors and ‘political experts’ have already begun to circulate this narrative. Just in case their hope of the military establishment returning to help him does not materialise.

But Khan won’t be the first to weave such a narrative. The former PM Z.A. Bhutto came up with a similar sounding narrative. When he was toppled in a military coup in July 1977, Bhutto lashed out at the military and the opposition parties for being in league with the industrialists and the US to oust him, because (he claimed) his regime had become a threat to capitalist interests in the country, and to the US in the region.

There is only scant evidence that the US was behind Bhutto’s fall. Indeed, he wasn’t liked by the US presidents Nixon and Carter. But it is also a fact that US involvement in regime changes during the Cold War was hardly ever a clandestine matter.

The manner in which US governments went about aiding regime change in various Asian, African and South American regions during the Cold War, was rather blatant. Its justification was ‘keeping out communism.’ And anyway, had the US been involved in Bhutto’s departure, it would not have imposed sanctions against the military regime that arrested and threw him in jail.

There was actually an attempt by the US to isolate the military regime (led by Gen Zia) that replaced the Bhutto government. Of course, the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces changed all that.

But Khan is no Bhutto. Bhutto was actually treated as a peer and man of influence by his counterparts in the international arena. He had risen to power when his party swept the 1970 elections in the erstwhile West Pakistan’s two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh. And as the late political scientist K.B. Sayeed demonstrated in his 1980 book The Nature and Direction of Change, the business and industrial classes did fund the opposition parties. But that’s hardly a ‘conspiracy.’

Yet, Bhutto’s tirade against the West, particularly the US, became the stuff besieged mindsets are made of in Pakistan. But even he wasn’t the first. In the hefty collection of declassified documents of the US state department — compiled by Roedad Khan in 1999 and published by Oxford University Press — one can see the staunch pro-US Pakistani president Ayub Khan, lamenting that the Americans had dumped him (when he was facing a widespread movement against his regime in 1968).

What’s more, when another pro-US dictator, Gen Zia, was killed in a plane crash in 1988, one of his sons wasn’t immune to allude that the US might have been involved in what he still believes was sabotage. Sabotage it might have been, but no convincing evidence has ever surfaced to substantiate any US involvement.

But Khan knows the drill. When one falls, one can turn it into a heroic tumble by claiming that powerful international forces were involved in ousting him. Of course, these international forces do so with ‘corrupt’ internal elements. Does Khan really think he matters so much to these forces? He’s really a ‘nobody’ in the international arena. This may sting his ego and the delusions of his supporters, but it is a fact.

However, he does matter to those who engineered his coming to power. And they have decided to become ‘neutral.’ His gaffes are adding confusion in those at the helm in the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and even China. They are wondering if Khan’s former makers are in agreement with what he so callously blurts.

Rest assured, it is only a question of time before Khan further fattens his narrative by adding his former makers into the circle of conspirators that want to oust one of the greatest, bravest and most good-looking PMs of our times. Delusion and desperation can make a besieged mindset go south very quickly.

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 13th, 2022

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