Imran’s lesson

Published May 15, 2022

THIS is for the second time in five years that a former prime minister has been in direct confrontation with the military over the latter’s political machinations. First, it was Nawaz Sharif: after his unceremonious ouster from power in 2017, he had been outspoken and named specific individuals he held directly responsible for his dismissal. Now, Imran Khan seems to be taking the same route, making no secret of the fact that he blames the military for his government’s failure to complete a five-year term.

Both Mr Sharif and Mr Khan had a falling-out with their army chiefs, following which they found their respective governments on slippery ground. Both refused to bend to the military leadership’s wishes, for separate reasons, and both believe they were made to pay the price for asserting their authority.

Read more: Imran reiterates threat to his life, says has recorded video naming 'all conspirators'

The two politicians may be poles apart in terms of ideology and approach to governance, and the manner of their respective departures was very different; yet, they share common ground, too, in that they believe external pressures never gave them the room they needed to implement their vision for the country.

Between them, the leaders of Pakistan’s two largest political parties have managed to do what years of an independent media, that cried itself hoarse over the issue, could not. They seem to have finally convinced the vast majority of the populace that our democracy is weak and susceptible to pressures and coercion from undemocratic forces.

Mr Sharif seemed to have understood and internalised this when he introduced his ‘vote ko izzat do’ slogan, even if his party is struggling to stay true to that belief. It is unclear whether Mr Khan’s romance with his uniformed ‘saviours’ has come to an end, but his call for ‘haqeeqi azadi’, or ‘true freedom’, echoes Mr Sharif’s call for ‘respecting the vote’ in that it demands the will of the people reign supreme.

But Mr Khan is simultaneously demanding intervention to ensure early elections, which puts pressure on the military’s new resolve to remain ‘apolitical’ and let civilian leaders sort out their differences themselves. That Mr Khan refuses to engage at all with his political rivals on any matter of reform, governance or legislation is a shame, because it is the civilian leadership which will have to set the red lines collectively if it wishes to stop being at the mercy of non-democratic powers.

It is understandably tempting for any party to seek the backing and patronage of the security and intelligence apparatus, but when will it become clear that such patronage exacts a heavy price and almost never delivers any long-term dividends? It would be much wiser for all parties to formally note the army’s desire to be ‘neutral’ or ‘apolitical’ in matters of governance and democracy, and to collectively hold the establishment accountable for any deviation from that policy.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2022

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