Imran’s U turns have added to the confusion

Harsha Kakar

Pakistan is heading for further internal unrest. Imran is moving his party cadre towards Islamabad and Rawalpindi intent on creating havoc, violence and forcing his agenda for early elections as also interfering in the appointment of the new army chief. He is aware that delay in elections could make his supporters lose interest, while an anti-Imran army chief could impede his political future. To keep all confused, Imran regularly changes his statements. Initially he blamed the US for his removal, subsequently altering his stance once he managed to get the attention of the populace. He stated, ‘As far as I’m concerned it is over, it’s behind me.’ Imran knows that mere mention of the US, disliked by the masses, would get him desired attention. Imran knew all along that the US had no role to play in his ouster. It was failure on the economic front and differences with the army which led to the creation of a coalition to ensure his ouster. It was Imran breaking agreements with the IMF which resulted in their stopping funding Pak, causingthe economic crisis. On the contrary, he accuses the present government of being responsible for the economic collapse. On the subject he mentions, ‘The economy is sinking. The dollar earnings through remittances and exports, they’re all going down,’ adding, ‘the sooner we get elections, (the sooner) a stable government comes in that will lead to political stability, which will then have a chance for Pakistan to get out of this mess.’ Wonder if he realizes the cost of elections. Imran is aware of his lies, but his reputation of a successful and (claimed) honest politician carries him through, despite facing the courts for selling gifts received as PM. It was Imran who during his campaigning in 2018 had announced, ‘I would rather commit suicide, than seek a loan,’ and, ‘we will never take loans like beggars from America or the IMF.’ He promised a welfare state, but Pak ended up anything but that. Once elected, Imran’U’ turned and stated, ‘we do not have enough dollars to pay the instalments of our loans,’adding,’we debated and decided to go both the IMF and countries which are our friends.’ Imran insisted that the army chief should be appointed by an elected government and hence wanted elections. He made the army chief’s appointment into a circus the likes of which had never been witnessed before. He even suggested that Gen Bajwa be given an extension till elections are held. When he realized his words carry no weight, he backtracked and stated that the army chief be appointed on merit, details of which he has never divulged. His senior party colleagues display confidence on the decision of the President on the appointment, aware that a President can only play spoilsport and delay but not change the government’s choice. Why an army chief appointment is of interest is that every Pak PM has been removed on directions of the army chief, including Imran. Further a chief once appointed could continue for six years with an extension. Imran playing an antiarmy card is to ensure that whoever is the next chief is favourable to him as also does not interfere in the electoral process. The release of Bajwa’s tax records just prior to his retirement will also be exploited by Imran claiming dishonesty of Pak generals. The finance minister jumping into the controversy has only proved that the accusations are true. On multiple occasions Imran has stated that the army removed him from power. Imran assumed, fairly rightly, that he has the support of the middle and junior ranks of the army. Subsequently, as expected, Imran changed his tune. His party member, Punjab PM Parvez Elahi, quoted Imran, ‘Let’s accept the establishment was not behind the regime change conspiracy, but it should have played its role and stopped the conspiracy.’Imran sings a different tune after exploiting the previous one to the hilt. The turning point in Imran’s current popularity came after the assassination attempt. He portrayed himself as a politician who has taken on the mighty deep state and survived. His blaming an army general, unproven though, for the assassination attempt, gave him added support as the nation detests domination by the generals, who are as corrupt as the politicians they control. Imran’s major plus point has been differing accusations in every speech, projecting himself as a victim of conspiracies. However, none has been proved. The government and the army have realised that challenging him would be counterproductive as Imran is first of the starting block. The drawback with the current government is lacking a politician capable of challenging Imran in similar large rallies. It has ended with party spokespersons commenting against Imran in press conferences. Even the army has countered Imran in a similar manner. This approach has provided Imran a free run and sent a message to the masses that whatever he has stated is true. All through his protests Imran has forced the government and the army to react. All attempts at crafting a strategy to stall him have failed. It appears Imran has remained a step ahead, aware of the government’s reactions, possibly due to crucial inputs flowing to him from within the establishment. The only option left is to employ the courts to stall him. Imran has publicly challenged the stranglehold of the army over national politics. He has placed the generals on the defensive. His U turns are timed to perfection. He has exploited a subject, backtracked and switched to a new accusation, leaving the opposition in disarray. However, he has not let the anti-army wave die down. Social media in Pakistan remains abuzz with an anti-army sentiment. Imran continues to play his cards close to his chest. There is no doubt that he will make every attempt to enforce early elections as also influence the appointment of the next army chief. If the chief is not of his choice Imran will work to keep him under pressure from the word ‘go’. He is aware that his agenda can never be achieved by a sit-down protest. What remains in question is the level of violence unleashed to achieve his aim. (The author is Major General, Retd.)