Imran’s unceasing attacks on the government and the military have increased the instability in Pakistan
Stability has evaded Islamabad ever since Khan was removed from office in April this year; the events of the last few days have further complicated the situation. The death of a journalist, Arshad Sharif, who was mysteriously killed in a shooting in Kenya has been co-opted by different sections of the state to further their narrative. Even though the military’s ‘invisible hand’ in influencing political decisions in the country is open knowledge now, there has always been a sense of mystery associated with the ‘establishment’. This aura and the institution’s ostensible invincibility came to tatters last week. In response to Khan’s unrelenting tirade against the officers of the army and the COAS, the Chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the spokesperson of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) organised a first of its kind press conference. With the apparent aim of clearing the air around Sharif’s killing, the presser was used as a platform by the army to disparage Khan and his wily machinations to destabilise the polity as well as assuage the alleged divisions within the force itself.
The impending transition in the military high command with the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) expected to retire by November end and Imran Khan’s unceasing attacks on the military and the government hint at a challenging period for Pakistan’s democracy.
Demanding vociferously for an election ahead of schedule, he announced a “Long March” from Lahore on 28th October for their ‘jihad for Haqeeqi Azadi’. With the purported aim of calling fresh elections and fighting for justice for the slain journalist, the march and its rallies have been a stage for the populist leader to engage in utopian speeches, weaving dreams of a new Pakistan and a ‘soft revolution’. The party has been harping over the popularity of their rallies, presenting it as a sign of the dissatisfaction that the citizens have with the incumbent government and their desire to hold the people in power accountable. Khan has been successful to an extent in placing that accountability on the ruling coalition and the military, with he himself donning the armour of their saviour, the one who will chart a new course for the country, if only he’s given a free hand to do that. Thus, for Khan, creating a persona of a self-made man who has the will and the capability to change Pakistan’s fortune but who is repeatedly thwarted by the ‘powers that be’ from exercising his duty is a strategy to replenish his electoral fortunes. An early election presents him an opportunity to capitalise on this rhetoric and pressing for an early election as it is the only way to reach ‘stability’ to resolve the economic woes of the country. He outrightly rejected the possibility of working with the ruling coalition. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership has been found flailing, unable to stop the tide of discontent while simultaneously failing to stabilize the country.
Speculations about Khan falling out of favour with the military owing to his reticence in the appointment of the new ISI Chief and his efforts to displace the currentCOAS have been circulating since last year but the scale and intensity of the contentions against the military that he has been spewing is unprecedented.
The presser was aimed at multiple things. Primarily intended to distance the military from the political mess that had engulfed the nation, it was as much targeted to the common citizens and the civilian leadership as to the military itself. Rejecting the army’s role in the killing of the journalist, the ISI reassured the people and reiterated its decision to refrain from meddling in political affairs. The two officers chided Khan for offering the current COAS an extension to save his government and argued that it was because of their refusal to step out of their constitutional remit that Khan unleashed his fury on the institution.
Primarily intended to distance the military from the political mess that had engulfed the nation, it was as much targeted to the common citizens and the civilian leadership as to the military itself.
The Long March was expected to reach Islamabad on 4th November but the delays on ground and now the assassination attempt has put things in a limbo. The ruling government has been on its toes and the Interior Minister has refused to grant the march permission unless it commits to being completely peaceful. Wrapping his statements in the cloak of rights, justice and true freedom, Khan has presented an all-out effort at keeping himself relevant and rallying public opinion behind him. His talks of a revolution and a complete overhaul in the governance of the country don’t stem from a genuine desire to bring in reforms. Like his predecessors, he’s concerned with coming back to office and concentrating power in his own hands. But the government has outrightly rejected any talks with him on the question of the next COAS or the elections, blaming him for giving fodder to Indian media because of his public rant against the military. Going ahead, the country will have to confront some difficult questions. While pre-empting Khan’s next move will be a difficult task, there will be an increased politicisation of the appointment of the new COAS and a rising crescendo of voices will demand early elections. With the elections scheduled more than ten months away, the chances of the situation stabilising seem bleak at the moment.
More political drama ensued when the Pakistan Electronic and Media Regulatory Authority refrained news channels from airing PTI leader Asad Umar’s video where he named ‘three suspects’ that Imran Khan believed carried the attack.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Shivam Shekhawat is a Junior Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her research focuses primarily on India’s neighbourhood- particularly tracking the security, political and economic ...Read More +