Imran Khan has advised cabinet members not to stray too far from Islamabad for the next three months. “The move is aimed at imposing austerity”, explains His Masters Voice, Chaudhry Fawad Husain, with a straight face. This is the gent who told the Election Commission of Pakistan recently that he should be excused from the charge of contemning the ECP because he is a veritable mouthpiece of the cabinet. The real reason is that Imran Khan fears an imminent move to oust him and wants all hands on deck to face the challenge. But the game is slipping from his hands faster than most people could have forecast some months ago. The signs are ominous.
Last month, Imran Khan desperately tried to hang on to the coattails of General Faiz Hameed, DGISI, who is the architect of putting him into office and propping him up for three years, but failed in the face of institutional pressure from the Miltablishment. Indeed, the PTI could not have fielded a majority in the Joint Session of both houses of Parliament if calls from the usual quarters hadn’t pulled out the stops at the nth hour to make it happen. Much the same sort of fate awaited the government if General Bajwa hadn’t stepped in to calm the surging Tehreek Labaik Pakistan and make it back down. How much longer will such bail-outs be available before the Miltablishment breaks ranks and sponsors more credible options? Here’s a read out.
The Karachi stock market reacted to news about the surging trade deficit and galloping inflation by plunging 2000 points. The finance ministry’s latest U-Turn – accepting all IMF conditions – means that after a short spurt of “go” we are back to “stop”. A new budget ending tax exemptions and subsidies, increasing utility rates and property taxes, cutting expenditures on development and poverty alleviation, etc., is to be announced shortly. We should expect protests across the sectors to start besieging the government.
The parliamentary opposition has decided not to assemble for the umpteenth briefing on National Security. Diminishing returns have set in for such briefings so rapidly that powers that be have asked Moeed Yusuf, NSA without political capital, to conduct them. But, despite much to-ing and fro-ing all over the globe by “concerned officials”, “national security” is up the creek without a paddle. Kabul has done nothing to clamp down on the TTP; President Biden is still not on speaking terms with Imran Khan; Riyadh has belatedly, and only reluctantly, ceded $3b in deposits to the State Bank of Pakistan on unprecedented harsh terms and conditions. The money can’t be used to finance government, it can be withdrawn on 72 hours’ notice, it attracts a steep rate of interest, any default by Pakistan on any financial commitment to any international body like the IMF, World Bank, ADB, etc., shall be considered a default on the Saudi contract, all disputes to be settled in the courts of Saudi Arabia, any Pakistani asset anywhere in the world can be seized by Riyadh in event of any default. All this because MBS was offended by Imran Khan’s attempt to set up a rival camp with Turkey and Malaysia to challenge the hegemony of the OIC headed by Saudi Arabia. Now there is a new “national security” challenge that threatens to unravel our foreign policy options: what if India, Russia, Iran and China were to recognize the Kabul regime and the western bloc (including its partners in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia) led by the USA, upon which Pakistan is dependent for trade and aid, was to withhold it, what would Pakistan’s position be? The COAS, General Bajwa, has called for “resetting” Pakistan’s national security outlook from “geo-strategy” to “geo-economics”, which includes “normalization” with India, closer relations with the Western bloc, but there is still no change because Imran Khan is afraid of the political backlash from such a leap of doctrinal faith.
Now the PTI government is tussling with the Election Commission of Pakistan and the superior judiciary for partisan political gains. It launched its anti-ECP campaign by bad mouthing the ECP; now it is threatening to cut off its funding if it doesn’t agree to use EVMs in both the forthcoming local body elections and general elections. The ECP has responded by turning the screws on the Scrutiny Committee in the PTI Foreign Funding Case for delaying the outcome of the inquiry. It has already indicted the PTI Punjab government for serious malpractices in the Daska by-election and is readying to disqualify PTI badmouth Faisal Vawda for deliberate misdeclarations on his election forms.
The superior judiciary is also finding it increasingly difficult to scratch the back of the PTI government without losing face. The cases and convictions against Nawaz and Maryam Sharif are encountering heavy weather because new revelations have put ex-Chief justices Saqib Nisar and Asif Khosa in the dock. Slowly but surely, one after another, high court judges are inclined to assert their autonomy from the executive. For instance, the judges have finally woken up to order local body elections in all the provinces on a party basis, which the PTI opposes because it knows it will surely lose them. Some recently promulgated laws via a sitting of both houses of parliament are also likely to be successfully challenged on the yardstick of constitutionality.
The hybrid regime foisted upon Pakistan is crumbling.
Although President Biden has invited Pakistan to participate in the Democracy Conference as a sop to retain some relationship with it – and pointedly ignored its “friends” China and Turkey – it remains concerned about the rise of militant organisations, the state of religious minorities and constrained media freedoms due to the hybrid regime’s policies.
Imran Khan is anxious about the next three months for good reason. In London, Chaudhry Sarwar, Governor Punjab, is criticizing his ruling party and spilling the beans by saying that a decision has been taken by the Miltablishment to support a vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan. This is what happens when a ship is sinking.