WHETHER he deserved it or not, Imran Khan got the chance to be prime minister of Pakistan. The hybrid regime that he headed was meant to stay in place for 10 years. Though no political party in Pakistan had ever won a successive term in the centre previously and no civilian prime minister had remained in office longer than four years at a stretch, the hybrid regime was different because it enjoyed the support of those that mattered.
While others had run afoul of the establishment a few years in, the hybrid regime was special because the military and the civilians were on ‘the same page’ and running the country in concert. And yet, the three-year itch struck. What happened exactly to unravel the hybrid set-up headed by the man, Imran Khan, who had been built up to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and his opponents debased as scum of the earth?
The short answer is — he failed spectacularly. There is no other logical explanation for the establishment’s change of heart, and sudden desire to go neutral. The trouble is, while those in high offices realised that the hybrid experiment hadn’t worked and course had to be corrected, those lower down the rungs were slow to get the memo. Tried having a conversation with a PTI supporter lately?
One would like to empathise with them if they didn’t make it so hard. Instead of acknowledging that Imran Khan couldn’t deliver or that it isn’t easy for a civilian prime minister to stay on the same page as the establishment beyond a few years, they will go on a rampage about how the Sharifs and Zardaris are ‘looters and plunderers’ and those in smaller parties, the coalition partners, are ‘sell-outs’ who will auction themselves to the highest bidder.
No good has come of this experiment.
Neither does the nasty rhetoric stop at politicians anymore. Since the no-confidence vote was successfully implemented, judges and soldiers have been added to demeaning WhatsApp forwards. One is awestruck to hear them indict the majority of the country as ‘traitors’, while defending the unconstitutional and illegal acts of an egotistical former prime minister.
Read: Treason season
What is their grievance exactly? That the establishment didn’t continue to prop Mr Handsome up? Could there be a more entitled group less aware of its privilege? When Baloch activists or groups like PTM had raised slogans against the security establishment it was because their loved ones had gone missing. PTI supporters had called them traitors then but here they are burning flags and passports, raising the same slogans, just because Teflon man is no longer in office? Because the 10-year plan failed?
Where did he want to take Pakistan with his anti-Americanism and pseudo-religiosity anyway? Ask the supporters and one can’t get a straight answer. They are more concerned about Fazlur Rehman joining the coalition than they are about Imran Khan stoking fires along every fault line he can find in society.
So thank God that the DG ISPR, Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, stepped forward to refute all three claims of Imran Khan’s post-power narrative. There is no foreign conspiracy, the US did not ask for bases and Mr Khan’s ouster was the result of a constitutional process and not a political deal. His press conference was heartening on other fronts as well. He emphasised that Gen Bajwa will not seek another extension, that the military wants to be apolitical and that Pakistan will never again be subjected to martial law.
Given our history, it may be difficult to conclude that the establishment really has become apolitical. But one can definitely say this — what a breath of fresh air this press conference was compared to those held by then Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor. Maj Gen Babar exuded calm humility which restored dignity to his office.
Yet one hopes that there will be no more experiments. That democracy will truly be given a chance. That lessons have been learnt regarding the danger of ‘fifth-generation warfare’, which now threatens the very edifice of the state. What had started with dissident journalists and activists being dubbed traitors has now led to state institutions being maligned as such. Unchecked, this can plunge Pakistan into full-on fascism, the signs of which are rearing their ugly and violent head at our schools and universities, hotels and restaurants, and even hospitals.
No good has come of this experiment. Imran Khan has done nothing but mislead the youth of Pakistan, and several adults. The world respects democracies. PTI is welcome to participate as a democratic party but it’s clearly not interested in parliamentary affairs. Former ministers prefer to threaten civil unrest instead. So what now?
Historically, the cost of power in Pakistan has been either jail or exile. So why should it be any different for Imran Khan? PTI supporters may have to learn the hard way.
The writer is a lawyer who lives in London.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2022