IMRAN Khan’s latest change of tack has caught his opponents by surprise. For months, the federal government had braced itself for a siege, and was reinforcing security around the capital. But the PTI’s decision to call off the march and dissolve the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has changed the entire scenario.
It all happened on the eve of the change of guard in Pindi, lending a curious twist to the power game. The change of strategy came in the garrison city as the climax to the march that was aimed at forcing the government to agree to early elections.
It is apparent that the PTI’s months-long campaign could not achieve any of its objectives. But will Khan’s new move to checkmate the fledgling dispensation work? The dissolution of the assemblies in the two most powerful provinces and the possible pulling out of PTI members from the other provincial legislatures could certainly deepen the political crisis, making it harder for the fractious ruling coalition to survive.
However, it may not be the end of the game. While the PTI leadership has approved the decision, one is still waiting for its implementation. Apparently, there should not be any complication with the two chief ministers on board, but nothing can be taken for granted until it’s done. Notwithstanding its claims, the ruling coalition at the centre seems to have no power to block the dissolution. The option of governor’s rule may not be effective in this situation.
Indeed, the dissolution of the provincial assemblies will not constitutionally bind the federal government to dissolve the National Assembly and call for general elections. But elections in the two provinces within 90 days would change the entire political dynamics.
Dissolution of the assemblies in Punjab and KP will deepen the political crisis.
Meanwhile, the PTI has also decided to approach the Speaker of the National Assembly to accept the resignations of its remaining lawmakers. With the PTI members absenting themselves from its proceedings, the National Assembly had already lost its effectiveness; the acceptance of the PTI resignations would only add to its dysfunctionality.
The entire episode is set to completely destabilise the system. Can a weak coalition government withstand such mounting political pressure?
What is most alarming is the impending economic collapse and looming threat of sovereign default further complicating the situation. An inept government and its clueless finance minister do not seem to have any ability to deliver the country out of this mess. The rising current account deficit and runaway inflation have stifled economic growth.
Heightening political instability makes it much more difficult to stem the rot. The country is on a slippery slope with no hope of things getting better. We are witnessing what former finance minister Miftah Ismail describes as a “consistent downward slide”. But the dire warning about the sinking ship is drowned in the cacophony of a political blame game.
It’s not just a political or economic crisis; it’s a crisis of state in the midst of anarchy. With eroding state authority, the situation appears extremely grim. The worsening political instability has given space to non-state actors.
There has been an alarming rise in militancy in the former tribal districts and other parts of KP. Banned militant outfits are back in action in some districts taking advantage of weakening state authority and political instability.
The return of militants to Swat valley more than a decade after they were driven out from the region by the Pakistan military indicates a failure of our national security policy. The reported presence of heavily armed men is reminiscent of the bad old days of Pakistani Taliban control in 2008. The resurgence of the militant network in Swat does not seem to be an isolated phenomenon. The TTP is now active in the former tribal areas too, particularly Waziristan.
Curiously, their activities seem to have increased after Pakistani security agencies entered into peace negotiations with the militant outfit operating from their sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan earlier this year.
There is a strong suspicion that the militants returned to Swat as a result of a deal. Most of them had fled to Afghanistan after the military operation in 2009. They have reportedly been joined by local radical groups.
In the midst of political chaos in the country, the TTP has called off a tenuous ceasefire and ordered the militants to launch attacks across the country. There is nothing surprising about the announcement; the ceasefire had never been implemented.
The so-called peace negotiations seem to have given space to the militants. According to media reports, the interior ministry has warned of some TTP factions joining the militant Islamic State group.
Thousands of people have turned out in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent weeks to protest against the resurgence of militancy and the inaction of the security agencies.
The residents have not forgotten the days when the rampaging Taliban had established a reign of terror in the area. The reassertion of militant groups could further destabilise the country.
Meanwhile, in the midst of chaos, the country has a new army command. The transition may have defused the controversy over the appointment but the challenges before the new chief are daunting. Although the security establishment has pledged to keep itself out of power politics, it may not be that easy, given how deeply the military is entrenched in the power structure.
There is always the danger of it getting sucked into the fray, with the political forces at war with each other.
Imran Khan’s latest move to dissolve the provincial assemblies may have pushed the ruling coalition into a corner but it has also intensified the political confrontation and deepened the chaos.
The former prime minister can force the government to agree to an election date a few months earlier than the end of the National Assembly term. But it is doubtful that this would calm matters.
A major question is whether the warring sides can sit together to agree on a mechanism for free and fair elections. More important is how to deal with the worsening economic crisis and the resurgence of militancy that present a serious threat to national security.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022