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Tuesday, April 05, 2022

‘Game changer’ Imran Khan is not out yet!


Pakistan’s cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan did not hesitate to admit that the “establishment” (the Pakistan military) gave him three options.

The first option was to face a no-confidence vote in parliament. The second one was to dissolve parliament and hold snap elections and the third one was to resign as prime minister and forget about patronage of the military.

Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) swept into power in 2018, albeit with the blessings of the military, pulling strings to ensure that PTI has 121 seats in the assembly, thus making it a minority government.

The military denied the claims of giving Khan three options and backing him in the election, but he successfully dodged the ouster by following one of the three pieces of advice after consulting his cronies and advisers.

Pakistan’s former celebrity cricketer Wasim Akram wrote on Twitter: “The Game Changer #ImranKhan #Skipper #NotOutYet #Surprise”.

The tweet of the former captain and international sports commentator has earned 72.3K likes and 10.2K Retweets in a day.

What Akram and other supporters of Khan have not mentioned is that Khan remained loyal to “His Master’s Voice” – the military bigwigs who continued to interfere in foreign policy, civil administration and political affairs.

For nearly half of the 75 years of Pakistan’s birth, the country was ruled by the military which caused immense harm to the national economy, and sustainable development goals, blocking the capacity building of democratic institutions and freedom of expression.

As a result, the news organisations that were critical of the PTI government fell prey to Inter-Services Intelligence, the military’s spy agency. The dreaded agency has long been accused of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture of journalists in custody, especially in restive Balochistan and Waziristan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Several prominent journalists were killed. Journalists critical of the military establishment were forced to go into exile. The owners of several private news organisations were stopped by the ISI from employing these journalists.

The opposition moved to oust Khan accusing him of failing to revive the economy and crackdown on corruption. Now he is blamed for “burning down democratic order” as the minority government dissolved parliament to avoid the vote of no-confidence that he claims is backed by the United States because he visited Moscow on the day Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine.

After the chaos in parliament before its dissolution, Pakistan’s independent newspaper Dawn in an editorial wrote: “The nation is stunned. Ahead of the vote of no-confidence, the prime minister had repeatedly hinted that he had a ‘trump card’ up his sleeve. There were indications all along that something might be amiss: even as political pundits and the media confidently predicted Mr Imran Khan’s defeat in the vote of no-confidence, he seemed unperturbed. No one could have guessed that his last ploy would involve having the democratic order burnt down by a democratically empowered party.”

Maleeha Lodhi, a Pakistani diplomat and political scientist wrote in the Dawn: “The Imran Khan government’s denouement raises the question of how he ended up facing a vote of no-confidence. Although that parliamentary process was subverted and a constitutional crisis ensued it will still mark an end to his rule. Few governments in Pakistan’s recent history began their term with Khan’s advantages. He had unqualified support from the military, widespread public goodwill, control of Punjab, a divided and demoralised opposition and a popular yearning for change.”

The country’s political landscape has recently been abuzz with political activity as parties and individuals changed alliances and the PTI and the opposition were seen trading barbs and allegations alongside intensifying efforts to ensure their success in the no-confidence contest.

Zaigham Khan, a leading political analyst told Al Jazeera: “[The dissolution is] a blatant violation of the constitution and can lead to a very serious crisis.” If the apex court of Pakistan orders the speaker to go ahead with the no-confidence motion, the dissolution of parliament will become invalid, the analyst said.

Former prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo appealed to the Supreme Court in 1988 after the assembly had been dissolved by former president General Zia-ul-Haq, who had taken power in a military coup years earlier.

The court agreed his government had been dissolved unconstitutionally but ruled that since elections had been announced anyway it was best to move on.

The fate of Khan’s political future now rests upon the Supreme Court’s decision. Although opposition leaders seemed confident to win a vote of no-confidence against Khan, chances are weak to get a proactive verdict. It’s highly unlikely the Supreme Court will overrule the decision to hold the vote at all.

First published in the news portal bdnews24, 5 April 2022

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, defender of media rights, and the recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award

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