Means and ends

Published November 2, 2022

THERE is little at the moment that can deter Imran Khan. Martial law? Bring it on, he says. Press conferences by powerful officers? He will drag them in public. Blood in the streets? That may well be a possibility if his ‘revolution’ is not defused through the ballot box, he warns.

As the PTI’s burgeoning long march crawls towards Islamabad, it would be wrong not to concede that Pakistan has perhaps never seen another civilian leader challenging the state in the manner Mr Khan is doing. Not only has he proved difficult to control, he has made his opponents appear completely helpless against his relentless onslaught. No threat, warning or legal challenge seems strong enough to force him to back down.

We are at this juncture because there is, at the moment, very little to be happy about in Pakistan. Crippling inflation has gradually robbed the masses of whatever small luxuries they had. The people need someone to blame for the misfortunes that have befallen them, and Mr Khan has successfully turned that anger on the state.

Also read: Imran comes under fire over martial law remarks

Yet, lest his surging popularity impair his judgement, the PTI chief must take a step back and consider just how far he is willing to take the fight. Both the government and the establishment are waiting for him to make an error. They have already tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to seize on the mistakes made by Azam Swati and Shahbaz Gill, as well as leaked recordings detailing Mr Khan’s ‘Cablegate’ ploy. Unchecked hubris in such a situation could cost the PTI chairman dearly.

Secondly, while Mr Khan seems to be successfully rewriting the rules of civil-military engagement, he must realise that he cannot burn every bridge and sink every ship in his desire to retake Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif, too, once launched a boisterous campaign against the security establishment with his slogan of ‘Mujhe kyun nikala’.

He, too, had publicly accused the army and spy chiefs of conspiring to oust him. However, the PML-N soon realised that it could not take on the military. The institutions Mr Sharif had so enthusiastically challenged ultimately prevailed. The PML-N finally bent the knee by voting for Gen Bajwa’s extension.

Ever since the PTI and its patrons fell out, it has been playing the role of the establishment’s B-team. Though Mr Khan currently seems in no mood to compromise, he may find it tempting to do so if his ultimate goal is to return to power. It may not happen now, but the impending change of guard in Rawalpindi could provide the opening for a rapprochement.

If not, the former prime minister will be left with little choice but to resort to what he calls a ‘revolution’. Only time can tell if he will be genuine with the cause or whether he will pursue it as a vendetta against those who let him fall.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2022

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