Is this the end of the road for Imran Khan?

Is the outgoing Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif’s boast about his proximity to the GHQ in a speech on the eve of the dissolution of the National Assembly an indication which way the wind will blow in general election to be held next year ?

With Queen or the old ‘Begum’ of the political harem of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Imran Khan Niazi, a former PM, finally being dumped with the help of Kangaroo courts, the decks have now been cleared for fresh polls to ensure a landslide victory for the ruling coalition considered to be a ‘hybrid regime’ led by PM  Shehbaz Sharif. A hybrid regime comprises civilian leadership as the face of the government, but the actual power lies with the army.

Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned politician, despite being convicted and arrested, continues to be the most popular figure in Pakistan. His absence in the elections gives the ruling coalition a chance to return to power without much opposition.

It may be recalled that just on the eve of the 2018 polls, the then PM, Nawaz Sharif, was implicated in false cooked up corruption cases and was convicted, thus paving the way for Khan to win the polls. Five years, later, the history is being repeated, now this time the target is Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

After being ousted from power, Khan’s opponents had adopted twin strategy of forming an alliance of the opposition parties and also befriending the then army chief, General Qamar Jawed Bajwa. It has given them rich political dividends.  The two major but rival political parties Pakistan Muslim League- Noon (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had supported the extension of Bajwa, thus renewing their ties with the GHQ. It also ended army’s political dependence on Khan.

Khan’s confrontation with Army

The protest of Khan’s supporters including the attacks on military facilities in Lahore might lead to his trial before the military courts. Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif  has said the military courts are a necessary for handing out punishment for rebellion against the state. “Whatever was happening on that day, it was a political party attacking the Pakistan army or air force,” he further stated in a media interview that “We are acting in response to that war which was declared on [the] Pakistan army on May 9.”

With their winning the support of the GHQ, the coalition comprising as many as 11 disparate political outfits, formed in 2020 under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), is now well-entrenched in the country’s power game. On April 10, 2022 through a no-confidence motion, PDM finally ousted Khan and his PTI from power. Earlier, it appeared that PDM’s agenda was not only to oust Khan from power, but also assert civilian supremacy in the country’s governance, but later, Shehbaz Sharif, was seen echoing his loyalties towards the GHQ. 

Earlier, PDM’s slogan was ‘Vote ko izzat do’, i.e. meant ‘give respect the sanctity of the vote’. It had also accused the army and its intelligence outfit, ISI, for manipulating and rigging the 2018 elections in favour of Khan.

Khan, however, was disillusioned with the army following his defeat on the floor of the National Assembly in 2022. Since then, he has been accusing GHQ’s active role in ousting him and has been holding big protest rallies in major towns of Punjab accusing army for his ouster from the power. Earlier, during his tenure as PM, differences with his mentor, General Bajwa, on the issue of the posting of ISI chief Faiz Hamid as a corps commander, had hit the headlines. Faiz Hamid, who had ensured Khan’s elevation to the coveted office of the prime minister, was aspiring to become army chief. The removal of Khan from power had finally shattered his hope to lead the army.   

Nawaz Sharif may return to Pakistan

Much political drama is in store if the former PM Nawaz Sharif finally returns to Pakstan. He had accused in his speech broadcast from London, that the then army chief  Bajwa and Faiz Hamid for installing Khan as prime minister by rigging the 2018 General Elections. 

It has been political acumen of Shehbaz Sharif and the chief of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, for finally wresting power from the army supported Khan and PTI. The apprehension is that Khan, an icon of the youths, and having a sizeable support of the army generals and the apex judiciary might comeback. If his conviction is stayed till the polls, he might win the polls.

On his part, Khan is conducting himself like a ‘docile’ political leader, ready to take instructions from the GHQ. He has been telling the real rulers, GHQ at Rawalpindi, that during his tenure as PM, he was sincerely following the directions being given by the army. His anti-India rhetoric was scripted by the ISI. According to Pakistani watchers, the foreign minister, Bilwal Bhutto’s anti-India uttering too echoed the ISI’s directions.

It is being recalled that the army’s proxies in media and among Muslim clergy had declared Nawaz Sharif, during his tenure as PM, a stooge of India; therefore, Khan cannot be blamed for winning India’s friendship.

The real reason for his ouster could be his failure to manage the army’s growing needs for more funds. The defence budget of Pakistan takes away more than 55 per cent of the national resources for maintaining its one million soldiers, including five lakh reserves. In this figure, the strength of para-military, estimated to be nearly 6.5 lakh, is not included. 

Khan’s Pleas Ignored

Before he was convicted for five years, Khan had been pleading like an abandoned begum of Mughal harem directly to the GHQ and also before media that he was keen to meet the new army chief, Munir Ahmad, but his pleas were ignored. Since he had opposed his elevation to the coveted post of the army chief, he also lost the favour of the new leadership of the establishment.

A disenchanted Khan, who had been the most ‘docile’ prime minister, appears to be still confused why he was being ‘punished’; he had been toeing the policies of the GHQ, whether it was any issue against India, especially after the abolition of the Article 370 of the Constitution ending the special status to the Jammu and Kashmir state, or snapping trade ties with India. However, his supporters are ‘hopeful’ that the army bosses might not oppose him, and he might get a stay on his conviction from higher courts, thus paving the way for his political rehabilitation.

It was candied confessions of a sitting PM in Pakistan, when Shehbaz Sharif stated on the eve of the dissolution of the National Assembly that it matters little to him for being branded as a stooge of the armed forces, popularly called establishment. He even boasted his proximity to the GHQ, perhaps paving the way for his victory in the forthcoming polls expected to be held in next three months. He exposes that route to power in Pakistan is only through GHQ.

Army’s nominee is Caretaker PM

The GHQ, according to informed sources in Pakistan, has finally prevailed upon the outgoing PM, Shehbaz Sharif, and the opposition leader, Raja Riaz, to get its proxy, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, Senator from Baluchistan, appointed as caretaker prime minister, till the polls, expected to be held next year.

Just two days before the appointment and a day after the dissolution of the National Assembly, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared the law giving the opportunity to the public figures for seeking review of their respective convictions before the apex court. The law could have helped the former PM Nawaz Sharif in seeking review of his conviction. It was enacted in May this year. 

Meanwhile, the possibility of giving stay to the conviction of Imran Khan, in the Toshakhana case is not being ruled out. He has been found guilty of selling a valuable gift, a wrist watch, received from the Saudi Prince, which  and sold in the market, and the details were not given about the proceeds. If Imran’s conviction is stayed till his appeals are being disposed off before higher courts, Khan might be allowed to contest the forthcoming polls.

It means that Khan, the most popular leader in the country, would be trouncing his political opponents in the coming polls.

Earlier, Kakar had served as spokesperson for the Baluchistan government and is known for his close relationship with the military establishment.

Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry in a statement, has observed that “Kakar’s nomination as caretaker prime minister certainly is something that would not bring joy for the camps of the ruling PML-N and PPP.