There is little doubt that Pakistan is barreling towards an uncertain political and economic future. There is complete disarray in the country. Ever since the departure of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, after a successful no-confidence motion against him in April, an intense tussle is being witnessed between the ruling coalition alliance and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while the military establishment and the judiciary are trying to pose “neutrals” in this game. But the fact is that all the stakeholders are equally involved in the whole mess that has dragged the country to the brim of being labelled as “default” on the footsteps of neighboring Sri Lanka. The depleting foreign reserves and delayed release of the next tranche of $1.2 billion and melting value of rupee against the US dollars have further aggravated this crisis.
Imran Khan has been directly blaming the Biden administration for “regime change conspiracy” against him – an allegation that has been categorically denied by the White House. There is no logical and material evidence to validate Imran Khan’s allegations about the US-backed regime change conspiracy, but he has been able to ignite massive anti-American sentiments among his supporters all across the country. But Imran Khan, who has refused to accept the incumbent coalition government of Shehbaz Sharif, has made this allegation as the main mantra of his protest campaign after his dismissal through a no-trust motion in the parliament. And now he has been demanding early general elections. Interestingly, it is the same military establishment that was eulogized by him as his main patron till March this year and which also generously helped him to become the Prime Minister after straying in political wilderness for 22 years.
The reality is that Imran Khan was already in despairing situation due to his inefficient financial management of the country. At the start of 2022, when the public resentment was picking up momentum against the astronomical inflation, continuous devaluation of rupee and bad governance, it was all clear that Imran Khan would have a very tough time at the annual budget session in June and political analysts had already started talking about his ebbing chances to survive after the annual budget session. The PTI government, with a huge baggage of four years of incompetency, numerous stories of corruption scandals, nepotism, shattered economy and bad governance, was desperate to find a face-saving formula. The ouster from power before the budget session has proven a blessing in disguise for Imran Khan, whose popularity is now inversely soaring high because of a very effective and professionally run protest campaign that is playing on the sympathy, patriotism and anti-America cards against the so-called imported government. He has been conducting unabated protest gatherings, press conferences, media interviews and image-building through social media platforms ever since he was thrown out of the PM house in April. He has toured the entire country and conducted innumerable major public gatherings almost on daily basis so far to mobilize his supporters. He is showing his face daily to the public through a very effective engagement campaign. This daily engagement with the public has helped him to consistently connect with his target audience and build a momentum for his anti-American narrative – “Imported Government Namanzoor”. Despite his unabating contradictory statements and U-turns in his daily bhashans, majority of his supporters are vehemently defending his apparent contradictions.
In the last days of the PTI government, the value of rupee was melting fast, commodity prices and fuel prices were jacking up on almost weekly basis, Imran Khan was in deep mess, and it was expected that after the 2022-2023 budget the PTI government would not be able to survive against the disgruntlement of the public any longer. All was set for the “natural political demise” of the PTI government. The Opposition had to just wait for few more months and the PTI would have been out of the corridors of power under the extreme public pressure against the high inflation, fuel prices and eroding value of rupee. But the then Opposition – the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA) to be more exact – showed unnecessary haste in getting rid of Imran Khan at a very wrong time, though for all the right reasons. Most of the financial and technical experts agree that these landmines were planted by the inept and incompetent finance team of the PTI government, which made delayed and faulty financial decisions that dragged the country into this financial imbroglio. But now PM Shehbaz Sharif, not other partners of his coalition government, is being blamed for his inability to control the unabating financial predicament. Apparently, PM Shehbaz Sharif and his core team have no concrete plan to offer some respite for the common man in the immediate future. Shehbaz Shari’s PML-N has been very defensive in approach when compared with extremely offensive campaign of Imran Khan who has literally created a new kind of polarization that has seeped deep into the society including the Supreme Court, which has been continuously giving relief to the PTI in almost every constitutional petition since April. The Supreme Court’s decisions and proceedings have been seriously criticized by the legal circles and lawyers’ associations.
There is clear feeling that the Supreme Court, which also has an internal tussle between the Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and a senior most puisne judge Qazi Faez Isa, is taking almost one-sided decisions – even in one case against the Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, the SC made two different and confusing interpretations of the Article 63A(1)(b) and both times favored the PTI. The recent judicial activism in Pakistan, which was initiated by former CJ of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, was further augmented by all his successors. This new-found enthusiasm for judicial activism is bitter dimension to the already complicated political spectrum of Pakistan. In the past, it was politicians vs. politicians and politicians vs. the military establishment, but judiciary has entered as a new powerful player in this mess. The case of legality of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and voting rights of overseas Pakistanis, which is being opposed by all the political parties except Imran Khan’s PTI, is also part of that judicial activism and it is expected to further derail the already-injured credibility of the Supreme Court. Imran Khan wants early general elections and his fierce opponent former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (who is the unofficial chief of the PML-N) also favors this but his younger brother, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and other leaders in the ruling PDM are fiercely against early elections and they have now decided to be more aggressive to counter Imran Khan’s narrative as well as judicial activism. It looks as if all the stakeholders are bracing for major battle in the coming days to ensure their rightful share in the power structure, instead of finding some solutions to save the country from imminent economic catastrophe.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international relations based in Karachi, Pakistan.