IN opposition, the PTI chairman may undoubtedly be one of the most popular leaders in Pakistan’s history, but despite the groundswell of public support for his party, it appears Imran Khan is unable to use the situation to his political advantage and has no clear path for his next move.
In fact, going by the developments of last week, when his coalition partners in Punjab made some revealing statements about the support of recently retired Gen Bajwa to the PTI, Mr Khan’s narrative, which had resonated with millions up and down the country, today appears convoluted.
In back-to-back television interviews, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi and his father Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi claimed that Gen Bajwa nudged the PML-Q to support Mr Khan — an assertion which contradicts Mr Khan’s stance that Gen Bajwa withdrew his support to the PTI.
In his interview, Moonis Elahi clearly stated that Gen Bajwa advised the PML-Q to back the PTI and also expressed surprise that Mr Khan is critical of the now-retired general who purportedly “went all out” for Mr Khan.
After weeks of Mr Khan’s publicly criticising Gen Bajwa, these statements from his allies in Punjab are confusing. In addition to these claims by the PML-Q, the CM’s categorical statement that there is no way to force an early election, as desired by Mr Khan, betrays an opposition in disarray.
Beyond this, Mr Khan’s own dramatic announcements, first about having talks with the government on elections and then resignation from the assemblies, have either been retracted, or fallen flat.
His recent admission that he should never have offered an extension to Gen Bajwa, too, contradicts what the DG ISI said in that famed presser about Mr Khan offering yet another extension to the former army chief.
The ball is in Mr Khan’s court, but it appears he is stumped as to what to do with it. An ace at narrative building, Mr Khan successfully captured the public imagination by conjuring up the cipher controversy, and then by stirring anti-Bajwa sentiment.
But for all his efforts and popularity, he is at a dead end. His demands for early elections are legitimate, but with no option left to trigger general polls, the best thing for him to do is to return to the system. A public that is battered by both political and economic instability deserves more than just a roadshow and container politics.
In this blind alley, Mr Khan would be well-advised to represent the people who voted for him and challenge the incumbent government not just verbally but where it counts. Unfortunately, given Mr Khan’s aversion to parliament, where he was a stranger even when in government, it is too wishful an ask. Still, without a Plan B, there are few other options for Mr Khan if he wants his party to remain a formidable opposition.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022