Analysts normally put a question mark at the end of tricky headlines as none of us are brave enough to stick our neck out, and continue to hedge our bets. The major pitfall is that it leaves the reader none the wiser, given all the caveats and ifs and buts.
I believe it is time to say it like it is. I do not think Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will be able to retain his majority in Parliament and survive in office, some five months after preferring to pin his hopes on one individual and losing the backing of an institution in the bargain.
No. I do not have a fly on the fall in any office of significance in Rawalpindi, Aabpara, Islamabad, to reach this conclusion. Neither do I have sources embedded in the system or among those that press its various levers. All I have done is to juxtapose various events, statements and the tone and tenor of some of those statements. That has brought into sharp focus the endgame being played out. It could be a matter of days, at best a couple of weeks.
Even by Imran Khan’s own standards, the invective he has let fly this week was in such bad taste that it spoke of desperation. The “cornered tiger”, as some of his supporters see him, is trapped and lashing out, throwing caution to the wind with not a care for the consequences. The intensity of his verbal assaults on the Opposition may have gone up dozens of notches in literally a week when he suddenly seemed to realise that his perch was too precarious for comfort and the Opposition challenge serious and potent.
But, for someone, who has avowedly been anti-US, save for when Trump was in the White House, he took a leaf out of George W Bush’s book when he lashed out at the military’s publicly stated and reiterated “neutrality” in the political game being played out in the country. “There is no such thing as neutrality. Only animals are neutral,” he told cheering supporters at a public meeting in Lower Dir, a day after the Inter-Services Public Relations spokesman had curtly told two questioners at his media briefing that the military was steering clear of politics.
Imran Khan’s dissatisfaction with that stance could easily be likened to Bush’s “you are either with us or against us” challenge to the world after the 9/11 attacks on the US, leaving no room for neutrality for any nation. The US was gravely wounded and enraged at that point in time and was getting ready to assert its enormous military might, so it told friends and foes alike there was no stopping it. To what long-term consequences is another debate. In our case, the consequences will not take long.
Ironically, if Imran Khan’s words were meant to rally/galvanise the support of members of the National Assembly that make up his rather fragile majority, they may have backfired as they confirmed the worst nightmare of the wavering Members of the National Assembly.
From the destabilisation of the last government through the run-up to the election to polling day, from government formation to the often witnessed rendering of the Opposition majority in the Senate into a humiliating minority, the sort of brazen support and mollycoddling, the governing party was used to, was no more.
The realisation that their leader’s comfort blanket as also their own had been wrested and they were on their own now and, far more significantly, in any election to come over the coming six to 18 months, made their decision easy. Particularly, with a resurgent Pakistan Muslim League (N) appearing a much safer bet, given the results of the by-elections and the more recent Punjab opinion polls.
Whereas those Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Members of the National Assembly now convinced that even the floor-crossing disqualification may be a small price to pay for the longevity of their political careers, the government allies have no such price to pay. With the shepherd now uninterested in herding them in one particular direction, the allies are free to go where they want.
If the Pakistan Muslim League (Q)’s unofficial spokesman Tariq Bashir Cheema’s public grouse that his party was being offered a lollipop ahead of the no-confidence vote and that “hum bachchay nahi hein” (we are not kids) was not enough, the very public spat between two federal ministers left very few doubts about the unfolding scenario.
A visibly irate Shaikh Rashid, without naming the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) said he was not “like those who with five-odd votes were blackmailing for the Punjab chief minister’s position”. His cabinet colleague, Pakistan Muslim League (Q)’s Moonis Elahi tweeted right back saying Mr Rashid was attacking those whose elders used to give him money during his student days.
While the lack of commitment from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Grand Democratic Alliance did not lead to a public argument, despite an air dash to Karachi by the PM, it was clear the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was seeking guarantees from the Opposition allies of the Pakistan Peoples Party that if it were to support the no-trust move, the concessions promised by the Pakistan Peoples Party would be delivered.
The Grand Democratic Alliance’s Pir Pagaro was “too ill” to receive the Prime Minister and the latter returned without seeing him. In desperation, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Imran Khan seem to be upping the ante and calling on supporters to gather in Islamabad when the vote takes place so the lawmakers violating the party whip can be confronted in the streets.
To obviate any law and order situation, I suspect the allies of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will be encouraged to make their position clear within a few days so the message to the government is loud and clear ie confronting its own dissenting Members of the National Assembly or the Opposition in “D” Chowk and the streets will serve no purpose.
This article first appeared in Dawn.