The captain’s gambit

Published March 28, 2022

IT seems that the last wisps of the political fog that has clouded the federal capital since March 8 finally dissipated yesterday evening at Islamabad’s Parade Ground. For the first time this month, Prime Minister Imran Khan sounded like a man certain of the fate that awaits him in the days to come. Between the lines of his long-running speech were the clearest indications yet that he has come to terms with the likely outcome of the impending no-confidence vote and is now moving on to laying the ground for the politics of what comes next.

Much of what he said would have been very familiar to the quite significant number of gathered supporters, some of whom braved hours of gridlocked traffic to hear him speak. Indeed, he truly tested the patience of those who had been eagerly waiting for the grand reveal of his promised trump card. Instead, he took his time to set the direction of his party’s future narrative by carefully recounting everything his government counts as an achievement thus far — such as its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ehsaas programmes, fuel subsidies and so on. It was well over an hour before he got to the more extraordinary part of his address.

Read: Kaptaan Khan's prime ministerial innings on the scale of no-confidence to world champs

Brandishing a weathered-looking document allegedly containing “written proof”, the prime minister suggested that his government was the target of an international conspiracy. Though he insisted that he did not want to get ‘swept up’ in emotions and ‘over-speak’ on the matter — which, he said, “might affect Pakistan’s foreign policy” – the prime minister suggested that he faced the same circumstances Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did before his unceremonious removal by military dictator Ziaul Haq. He indirectly suggested that Mr Bhutto had, due to his insistence on an independent foreign policy, fallen prey to an international conspiracy that was abetted by the security establishment, implying that he too may meet the same fate.

All this could well be correct, as both foreign powers and security establishments have played a role in the making and breaking of governments, with the incumbent government being no exception. However, we will never know what the truth of the matter is unless the prime minister shares his evidence publicly. One also wonders just what Mr Khan believes he has done to defy world powers such that they think it important to remove him from office while war rages in Europe and the global economy strains under unprecedented inflation. All said, this was the speech of a man with both eyes on the future — someone who knows his time is up and wishes to go down as a political martyr. Much of what he said will be used to whip up his electorate in case he takes up the mantle as opposition leader. It seems a dangerous game is about to get underway.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2022

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