The political atmosphere in Pakistan has become enormously tense in the last few days with daily developments pointing to a build-up which could end in a major political change. There is a growing sense that with the pressure being built by the joint opposition on Prime Minister Imran Khan, political observers and mediapersons hold the view that he could end up losing grip not only over the government but over his party.
Around 24 members of the National Assembly from the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had taken shelter at the Sindh House on March 17 announcing that they would support the ‘no confidence’ motion against Khan, as per their conscience. The members also clarified that they had taken the decision to remain together at the Sindh House as they feared Khan resorting to tactics aimed at harassing them to change their stance. However, on Thursday night and Friday, some of them moved out of the Sindh House and have taken shelter at different locations as they had got wind of the Prime Minister’s supporters reaching to harass them.
Interestingly, true to their assessment, on Friday around 100 PTI Students Federation Activists carrying “lotas” entered the Red Zone shouting slogans in favour of Khan outside the Sindh House. This would, however, not deter the 24 PTI MNAs from changing their mind and in fact there are few more ruling party members who are willing and likely to join them soon. While there is a lack of clarity on the exact situation on ground due to the fast changing scenario, at the same time there are indications that three Ministers are also with the opposition.
Disintegration within the ranks of the government has reached such levels that Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaisar, representing the PTI, has sent 20 MNAs abroad on vacation at this crucial juncture. Such a move is obviously with a malafide intention and could be aimed at further accentuating the present confusion at the centre. In these circumstances, given the Prime Minister’s abrupt outbursts often targeted at important personalities, the possibility of his making some strong and brash statements further vitiating the atmosphere cannot be ruled out.
These developments have led to speculations about the nature of action that Khan could likely take to bail himself out which could vary from imposition of the Governor’s Rule in Sindh to announcement of emergency in the country or sacking of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Khan is no doubt in a tight spot and would do anything possible to save himself. Alternately, in the face of a clear ouster he might create a chaotic and messy situation while moving out of position. This is already being done by some of his stooges.
Close confidants of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Rashid, Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill and Aaliya Hamza have been bad mouthing the dissident elements calling them “pimps and prostitutes” and referring to the Sindh House as “Sindh Brothel House”. Meanwhile, Khan’s “trusted” Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar announced together with Chaudhry that the Prime Minister will fight till the “last ball” though indications from Islamabad suggest that either the premier, who has technically and morally lost majority, may resign before March 27 or a resignation from him will be sought by the Army.
Experts well versed with internal developments feel that in case the Army has to act against him, they would use Khan’s favourite, Faiz Hameed to advise him to step down and fly abroad. He will be cautioned that in the event of him being voted out, he would not be spared by the opposition, particularly Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who would ensure that he is detained. Maulana, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif would be back with vengeance and would target Khan to embarrass him the most. This messaging is being done with the objective of conveying the option of leaving the country to Khan through proxies.
As far as the alliance partner PML-Q is concerned, while admitting their continued support to Khan’s PTI, the party has at the same time criticized the premier for the lack of trust he has shown in their engagement. In an interview on March 15 to HUM TV, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Speaker of Punjab Assembly from the PML-Q, exposed their deteriorating intra-party relations when he referred to Khan’s vindictive mindset, stubbornness and complete reliance on Faiz Hameed. He even revealed presence of dissidents in safe custody of the opposition.
The Chaudhrys have always been key players in the power game in Pakistan and have usually remained balanced and controlled in their rhetoric vis-a-vis their political partners as also their rivals. However, with such strong statements coming from Chaudhry Elahi on Khan, one could fairly assess that the relationship has increasingly got flawed over a period of time and the Prime Minister cannot expect support from the PML-Q when in a tight spot.
In the backdrop of these developments, the Pakistani establishment is convinced that Khan, his Principal Secretary, Advisors and Ministers have inflicted massive damage to all institutions and departments in Pakistan, including the Army. In their assessment, it would take years before the damage caused is rectified. There are reports that Principal Secretary Azam Khan is likely to leave Pakistan shortly. He has been posted as an Executive Director in the World Bank. The next few days would thus be critical in terms of deciding the fate of the PTI government.