Politics in Pakistan is a funny game. Neither brute majority in Parliament nor charisma offer manna for survival. Only the ability to pocket pride when chips are down matters. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, and Nawaz Sharif learnt this truism a little too late in the day and paid the price. Now it appears to be the turn of Imran Khan.
With the entire opposition rallying together to form Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and two major rallies, one each in Punjab and Sindh, it looks like Imran is failing at the one job he has sought all his life: to be Prime Minister of Pakistan.
He is known as the man picked up for the hot job by the all-powerful military, which is the permanent establishment of Pakistan. So, he should weather the brewing storm. But political observers are becoming increasingly wary of his penchant to let the clergy have an upper hand in deciding the state policy on matters like Covid -19, jihadi groups and terror financing.
This approach has endeared him to the GHQ Shura of Corps Commanders though. The GHQ has been using religion card and jihadi enterprise to settle scores with India. Also, to further the geo-strategic goals in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is their proxy.
In these two years, Imran’s sense of insecurity worked transparently in his unabated hostility to the opposition, which called his Government unmitigated disaster to the nonconforming media and even to his own questioning party members. It is because of this sense of insecurity that he undermines his elected cabinet colleagues and promotes his unelected advisers and special Assistants. That the elected Ministers are unhappy about this does not bother him.
In August 2020, Islamabad High Court ruled that unelected advisers and Special Assistants of the Prime Minister cannot exercise executive or administrative powers in the functioning of the Government and only elected representatives chose by people have the privilege to run the affairs of Ministries. However, the court said that Prime Minister had the Constitutional right to choose anybody as his adviser or Special Assistant. So far Imran’s advisers and Special Assistants have been holding Press conferences to make policy statements causing resentment among Minsters.
In addition to the army of advisers and special assistants, Imran has raised a special force which he has named Tiger Force. The name is alarming but Imran says it will help the Government by helping people with their daily purchases so they do not stir out of their houses during the Covid-19 pandemic. But according to newspapers this Good Samaritan duty does not interest these young recruits of the Tiger Force. Imran has given one more Tigery assignments to them. This force is now given highly destabilising task of keeping an eye on Government offices, educational institutions, markets, police stations and kutcheries. These assignments are shear madness. But there may be a method in Imran’s madness. Maybe he means to train them for future confrontations with the opposition which keeps on threatening joint action against Imran’s Government which they say has resulted from blatant rigging of the July 2018 elections by the Army in favour of Imran’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). One cannot rule out the Tiger Force becoming the military wing of the PTI before the next elections.
The Tiger Force reminds one of the FSF (Federal Security Force) that Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto raised in the 1970s to secure his Government and over-ride his very capable but forthright Ministers. He, to some degree, suffered from the sense of insecurity as does Imran today. Bhutto was haunted by his guilt of contributing to the breaking of Pakistan in 1971 and by the fact that it was because of this breakup that the Army installed him in power in truncated Pakistan.
Imran’s rise to power has been scripted by the army as well. The 2017 verdict of the Supreme court of Pakistan, that unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges was widely criticised as unjust by legal experts within and outside Pakistan. There was suspicion that the Army dictated the verdict. Some called it a judicial coup. The verdict doomed the rising structure of democracy and plunged the country into sudden vacuum of political leadership. The Army tried to fill this vacuum with electorally zero Islamic militant groups. Imran knows that the people of Pakistan know what forces have brought him to power. And that is the cause of his feeling of insecurity.