Imran Khan’s call for ‘Haqeeqi Azaadi’ to begin on Saturday September 24 may be an attempt to rally his fast-depleting cult-like base. However, Khan has turned into a nightmare for his erstwhile patrons, the military establishment.
Like other populist leaders, Imran Khan’s narrative rests on his argument that all political elites are corrupt, and that people need someone like Imran Khan. Further, he has offered no real policies and has managed to cover up the misgovernance of his four years in power with this rhetoric for change. Khan’s narrative is helped by the inability of mainstream political parties to address public concerns and respond with specific policies.
The military establishment too must acknowledge its role in building this perception of politicians as corrupt and in projecting Imran Khan as the alternative. “A hybrid arrangement tried to prop up a weak coalition. But all efforts failed to provide political stability, and instead, caused the weakening of the democratic political process in the country.”
In the words of columnist and author, Zahid Hussain, “Matters have gone beyond the bitterness of being dumped. Khan has now taken the battle to the citadel. His latest public speech has put to rest all speculations about a possible reconciliation. The security establishment now finds itself pitted against a powerful populist force and a cult that it once itself propelled. A lethal mix of popular support and Khan’s imperiousness has indeed made the PTI chief extremely dangerous. The project has gone wrong and diminished the establishment’s role as the final arbiter of power.”
Like other populist leaders, Imran Khan has an authoritarian mindset that views state institutions as subservient to his whims. His so-called anti-establishment rhetoric is also driven by his desire to control the institution. However, as Hussain remarks, “by making the appointment of army chief issue controversial, Khan has made his own position weaker. By upping the ante, Khan sought to bring the establishment under pressure but it doesn’t seem to be happening. Notwithstanding its diminishing power, the establishment is still strong enough to undermine Khan’s bid to return to power. In fact, his recklessness has caused the establishment to close ranks.”