Despite denials, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry have given credence to informed analysis that a Minus-One formula or option can’t be ruled out going forward. The reference is to an in-house initiative in parliament that leads to the ouster of the PTI government and/or prime minister and its replacement by some “national” or “interim” or “consensus” government and prime minister. The necessity for such political re-engineering is acutely felt following a realization across significant swathes of state and society that both Imran Khan and the PTI are singularly lacking in the ability to tackle the myriad crises that have piled up on Pakistan since the PTI assumed office.
The PTI’s failure to deliver is ascribed to several concurrent factors. First, Imran Khan’s obsession with hunting down and decimating the two mainstream opposition parties, the PPP and PMLN, and their leaders who still command twice the voter support that the PTI managed in the last election. This stands in the way of a national consensus to overcome an unprecedented set of internal and external crises. Second, Imran Khan’s inability to put together a sufficiently qualified professional team that can deliver core areas of concern relating to the economy, administration, governance and Covid-19. Third, Imran Khan’s inability to lead from the front and inspire team spirit and unity to confront the challenges we face. Fourth, the umbilical cord binding the Captain and his Selectors that initially signaled the Team’s strength and viability via the “same page” slogan has frayed rapidly following widespread realization that the Selectors are responsible for bringing the country to this pass, compelling them to step back from the puppet and revert to the drawing board in search of alternative “solutions”.
Imran Khan, meanwhile, continues to insist that the Selectors have no choice or option but to stick to him. He reasons that the PPP and PMLN and their leaders are so discredited in the eyes of the people – thanks largely to his relentless propaganda against them – that the Selectors would be extremely wary of mistaking the problem for its solution. He also believes that without him at the helm of the PTI, no aspiring turncoat can conceivably count on the loyalty of his youthful ideologues to make a bid for office. And he’s not worried about any street agitation led by the opposition because he can always count on NAB and FIA to nip it in the bud by bunging its leaders into prison.
There are also a host of unresolved issues with any proposed in-house change in Islamabad. Will the new government be an interim one for a few months tasked only to usher in new elections? Or will it be expected to last the full three years that remain of the current parliament? Who will constitute the consensus prime minister and cabinet? What will happen to the PTI governments in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa? How will fresh elections, whenever they are held, be free and fair? How will the new Rules of the Game with the Selectors be negotiated and agreed? What if, anticipating ouster, Imran Khan should pre-empt a change and plunge the country into a deeper crisis? Indeed, with India breathing down the LoC and sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan and Covid-19 sapping our energies, it is a moot question whether now is the moment to overhaul government or wait for a more propitious time. Certainly, according to Fawad Chaudhry, time is running out on Imran Khan who has six months to get his act together or face the consequences.
At the moment, the leaders of the PPP and PMLN are merely demanding the exit of Imran Khan, suggesting they can live and work with an alternative leader from the PTI in whom they can repose some confidence. But there is no agreement about the timing of new elections at the national and provincial levels, nor any solid assurances from the Selectors regarding the framework of the proposed post-election power sharing, governance model.
Is Imran Khan willing, like a good politician, to be flexible about his anti-PPP/PMLN-corruption obsession for the sake of a national consensus on the way out of this multi-faceted crisis? Is he able to rise above superstition and faith and djinns in making political decisions? Is he ready to shed cronies and buddies who have his ear? Is his dogged self-belief grounded in hard realities? If the answer to each question is NO, then it is inevitable that he will fail to live up to the expectations of those who voted for him and those who selected him.
In two years, Imran Khan has squandered two decades of political capital that he built up with perseverance and opportunism. He has lost the shine that so bewitched his youthful followers, many of whom are now questioning the wisdom of believing in him and voting for him. More critically, he has lost his standing with the Selectors who are increasingly uncomfortable with sharing the same page as him. Under the circumstances, water has a way of finding its own Minus-One level.