Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in 2018 because of the backing of Pakistan’s military intelligence establishment. For the last three years the military has allowed him a lot of leeway, in both domestic and foreign policy. In his recent attempts to ensure his nominee is made head of Pakistan’s intelligence services (ISI), has he, however, bitten off more than he can chew?
According to Fahd Hussain, resident editor for Dawn in Islamabad, “the relationship between PTI and the establishment is under unprecedented strain ever since Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to notify Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmad Anjum as the new DG ISI as announced by the ISPR on Oct 6, 2021. The strain is getting more intense by the day as the disagreement slowly but menacingly morphs into a stand-off. It may get resolved sooner or later, but the damage appears to have been done.”
According to Hussain, “till 10 days back, PTI was dreaming of a second five-year term. Now many in the party are concerned how they can hang on till the next elections. Their existential fears are based on the following: (a) their wafer-thin majority in the National Assembly is dependent on their allies MQM, GDA and PML-Q and if the allies ditch them the party for them might be over; (b) many among their own members are those who won as independents and will now be sniffing the wind, (c) a large number of PTI ticket holders are pro-establishment politicians and if they were forced to choose between the two sides, no one is in doubt which side they will opt for; (d) one establishment official recently remarked: “all we have to do is step back.”
Hussain ends by noting that PTI and Imran Khan do not have any good options, “PTI is burdened with: (a) weak parliamentary numbers and acute dependency on unreliable allies and members; (b) poor governance performance; (c) political isolation as a result of divisive politics; (d) shortage of anti-establishment space on the political spectrum in the presence of Nawaz Sharif.”