Author : Sushant Sareen

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Mar 26, 2022
As the No-Confidence Motion draws closer, Imran Khan seems to be running out of options
Imran regime's drop scene: Climactic or apocalyptic Throughout his entire political career, Imran Khan has always used cricketing metaphors, both to sound intelligent, even profound, and also to strike a chord with the crowds. Perhaps it is, therefore, only appropriate to use a cricketing metaphor to explain the difficult, almost impossible, situation which his government finds itself in: Last over, five balls left, 36 runs required. Clearly, a lost cause, unless, of course, there is some miracle—one or more no-balls bowled by the opposing side, or the umpires (judges) make some very controversial decisions, or possibly some last minute divine intervention. While the game seems all but lost, Imran is insisting on playing until the last ball is bowled, if only to improve his batting average (which in the current context means: Go out in a blaze of glory with the halo of a political martyr, done down by the ‘corrupt, compromised, and comprador’ Opposition). There is also a possibility that Imran could be aiming to dig up the pitch to disrupt the match, or create conditions for a pitch invasion by the crowds (his 27 March Amr bil Maroof rally on the eve of the No Confidence Motion), or even physically attacking the opposing side—arresting Opposition parliamentarians and preventing some of them from voting—so that the match is abandoned and the proverbial third umpire (Pakistani Army) is forced to intervene. In other words, he could do what the juveniles do when about to lose a match: Pick up the wickets, snatch the bat and ball, and run away from the ground.

The game plan

For now, Imran is acting supremely confident that he will win the No-Confidence Motion (NCM). He is claiming he has a few aces up his sleeve. But most analysts in Pakistan are convinced that he is bluffing and playing mind games with not only the Opposition but also his own followers. The numbers in the National Assembly (NA) are clearly stacked up against the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). The Opposition needs at least 172 votes—as per the Constitution, “majority of total membership (342) of National Assembly ”—to carry the NCM through. His one real hope lies in some judicial sleight of hand which forces the rebel/dissident Members of National Assembly (MNAs) to cast their vote for the PTI. The government has filed a reference in the Supreme Court to seek clarification on the anti-defection clause (Article 63A). Some of the judges have observed that the issue before them was not of whether votes of rebel/dissident MPs will be counted, but of the length for which defecting MPs will be disqualified.
The Opposition needs at least 172 votes—as per the Constitution, “majority of total membership (342) of National Assembly ”—to carry the NCM through.
These observations by judges have kept open the possibility that Constitutional provisions could be deliberately misinterpreted to suit the government. As per the Constitution, MNAs who vote against their party in a NCM will be de-seated, not disqualified. While the rebels can live with de-seating, any disqualification, either for a specific period or even for life, could compel them to not vote against the government. Imran will be hoping for such an outcome. But even if this was to happen, it won’t be of much help. The NCM can still be carried out with the support of the coalition partners of the government. Imran’s loyalists are, therefore, desperately trying to woo back the coalition partners, but don’t seem to be succeeding. While the court deliberates the reference moved by the government, Imran and his cronies (including the Speaker of National Assembly) are trying all kinds of tricks to buy time and delay what seems to be inevitable. The NA session on the NCM should ideally have been summoned on 21 March. The Speaker delayed calling the session until 25 March. On that day, he adjourned the session until 28 March. If the NCM is moved in the House on 28 March, then the voting can take place at the earliest is on 31 March and the latest is on 4 April. But there are reports that the Speaker could be toying with the idea of delaying the voting until after the Supreme Court gives its opinion on the government reference. Such a patently partisan and constitutionally untenable move could really lead to chaos and anarchy, not only in the House but also on the streets. The ‘Amr bil Maroof’ rally led by the PTI will take place on 27 March and the Opposition’s Long March will reach Islamabad on 28 March. The PTI rally is a show of force by Imran to intimidate the deserters and demonstrate his popularity. That the entire government machinery is being used to ensure a huge crowd is a ploy that has been used earlier by other rulers on their way out. Such rallies didn’t save them, nor is this rally likely to save Imran. There is a lot of talk of political tensions spilling over and clashes breaking out between the PTI rallyists and the Opposition supporters. If that happens, all hell will break lose and the military might find it difficult to continue pulling the strings of Pakistan's political puppet show from the sidelines.
The NA session on the NCM should ideally have been summoned on 21 March. The Speaker delayed calling the session until 25 March.
Imran has also tried another tactic—move a Constitutional amendment to create a new South Punjab province. This is clearly a desperate, even laughable, ploy aimed more at building a political narrative for the future than saving the present. Given that Imran doesn’t even have a simple majority to save his government, it is impossible that he will be able to cobble together a two-thirds majority in both the NA and Senate, as well as in Punjab’s provincial assembly to create a new province. The Opposition is unlikely to feel pressured by this sneaky and cynical move. One rumour doing the rounds in Islamabad is that Imran’s ‘clairvoyant’ wife—Pinki Pirni—has done Istikhara and suggested that if the vote can be pushed to April, it could work in his favour. It was on her advice last October that Imran decided to sit on the transfer of the former ISI Chief and current Corps Commander Peshawar, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed. This was the tipping point, after which the military stopped propping up the ‘selected’ regime, or to use the evocative words of Pakistani politician Pervaiz Elahi: The “nappies were no longer being changed” and the child was asked to manage on his own.
Given that Imran doesn’t even have a simple majority to save his government, it is impossible that he will be able to cobble together a two-thirds majority in both the NA and Senate, as well as in Punjab’s provincial assembly to create a new province.
At least twice in the past—Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi March in 2019 and after the defeat of Imran’s candidate in the Senate elections in March 2021 forcing him to seek a vote of confidence—the Army pulled Imran’s chestnuts out of the fire. At that time, it was claimed that Imran had told his confidants that those who brought him in power (army) will ensure he stays in power, in part, because they have no one else to replace him with. But after the spat over the reshuffle and postings of top army officers last October, the army has turned ‘neutral’. Worse, it opened channels of communication with the Opposition. The result was the slow-burn collapse of the government. Just as Imran’s wife’s psychic powers fell flat back then, Imran would be tempting fate, and worse, by making his political moves on the basis of the crystal-ball gazing of his Pirni wife.

A backup plan?

Rumours have also been floating around that Imran could exercise the proverbial nuclear option—sack the Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa and replace him with his favourite, Faiz Hameed. But according to the grapevine in Islamabad, he has been warned against trying any such stunt. The army will simply not allow it. If anything, the military establishment will make a horrible example of Imran and his cronies if he meddled in the military’s affairs. The message has probably gotten across. Imran has been trying to distance himself from such reports that state that he might be toying with this dangerous idea. He has told some of his cultists in the media that he has no such intention. But at this stage, his extending an olive branch to the army is unlikely to change the trajectory of events, even less so after Imran and PTI’s troll armies have been targeting the army and the ISI Chief.

Remaining options

As things stand, Imran has a few options, none of them good. He can try to negotiate a political deal which keeps him in office but promises an early election, perhaps in September. But the Opposition is unlikely to bite. It is even more unlikely that Imran will get off his high horse and negotiate with the Opposition, or that the military brass will try to broker such a deal. The second option is to do the honourable thing: See the writing on the wall and resign before he makes history as the first man being voted out in a NCM. But small men in high offices don’t normally do the honourable thing. Imran, in any case, would rather go down fighting than step aside. The third option is to try to survive in office by hook or by crook. This too is not going to get him very far because if things go south, which they will, neither the judiciary nor the military, and certainly not the Opposition will let him get away with this. The consequences of such reckless behaviour will be extremely severe for Imran and his party as well as his cult. The last option is to let the NCM go ahead and take his chances on the floor of the NA. He will lose, but might still live to fight another day. Of course, given the extreme charges that he will face in Opposition—foreign funding case, and allegations of filing false tax declarations and misrepresenting his assets, to name just two of the most onerous—there will be a huge question mark on his political future.
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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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