Mohsin Baig, the owner/editor of Online News Agency, is a self-avowed Establishment-influential. He also admits to being a fund raiser for, and confidante of, Imran Khan, having been on the notorious container with him in 2014-15. There are pictures of them together in select gatherings of Imran Khan’s personal friends. So when he started to openly criticise Imran Khan some months ago, a lot of tongues naturally began to wag. Had Khan and the Establishment that drafted him into office drifted so far apart that the time had come for the Establishment to sic its media assets on him? But when Baig started to threaten Imran Khan in public with disclosure of “unholy secrets”, the die was cast.
Imran Khan knows how much damage such revelations can inflict on his crumbling character and politics. Thus Baig was arrested by the FIA on the morning of February 16 from his house in Islamabad, partly to silence him and partly to send a warning to other ex-cronies who might be thinking of spilling the beans. Unfortunately for Khan, however, the manner of Baig’s arrest and the charges that have been slapped on him have redounded to Khan’s disadvantage instead of making him look strong and entrenched.
An FIA team in plainclothes went to arrest Mohsin Baig. He thought they were dacoits/kidnappers, so he pulled out a gun. Shots were fired in the air. He resisted and was roughed up. The police arrived, whisked him away and bunged him into a cell. By the afternoon, an additional sessions judge had been approached to summon the police and explain their conduct: how come an FIR by PTI MNA Murad Saeed for an alleged cyber-crime was lodged against Baig in Lahore at 9 am but by 9.30 am a team in Islamabad was already on the move to get him. The judge took one look at the FIR and declared that the arrest was illegal. The police responded by slapping charges of terrorism and shunting Baig to an anti-terrorist court which remanded him for three days. Questions arose. Why, for example, were charges of terrorism framed against him when he was only alleged to have made an oblique reference to Murad Saeed in a TV show on the basis of what was written in a book authored by Reham Khan, ex-Mrs Imran Khan?
The popular consensus is that Imran Khan is flailing about desperately in a fit of panic and rage. The Establishment has turned against him. The opposition is cobbling a united front against him. His allies are waiting for a signal from the Establishment to bolt into their arms and kick him out. He is intimidating his critics. Hit lists are being compiled feverishly. Repressive Presidential Ordinances are being drafted. The air is thick with stories of corruption in government, amongst Khan’s cronies and family. The Election Commission of Pakistan and the courts are waking up to flex muscle. Everyone is asking one question: who will strike first and when?
There are three ways to oust Imran Khan. The first is to create an environment in which he is thoroughly discredited and so pressured in one way or another that he chooses to throw in the towel and call it a day himself. But Khan is a stubborn man known to dig in his heels and fight to the bitter end. The second is to get him disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan whose damning judgment on the Foreign Funding case is expected in the first half of March. That would put the political merits of the legal route above par with the one taken to oust Nawaz Sharif. The third is to facilitate a successful vote of no confidence against him in parliament. A combination of the first two would be neater than the messy risks involved in the third.
There is a fourth way. If Imran Khan tries to sack the army chief and seize command of the Establishment by way of appointing his own man – as Nawaz Sharif did in 1999 vis a vis General Pervez Musharraf – the Establishment would likely hit back and he would meet the same fate as Nawaz Sharif did. But the country and its politics would be dragged into uncertain territory with unforeseen and unintended consequences
Nonetheless, sooner or later, whichever route is taken, general elections would be held and the PMLN, which enjoys great popularity, would form a government in Islamabad and the country would revert to being a normal democracy.
As matters get rough for Imran Khan in the next few weeks, he may take recourse to illegal and unconstitutional ways to retain his government. For instance he may try to arrest parliamentary members of the opposition so that they cannot muster the required numbers to unseat him. Or he could order the Speaker of the National Assembly, Asad Qaisar, a thoroughly biased and partisan fellow, to thwart the opposition by manipulating the results of any balloting or denying them their constitutional rights and privileges. Or he could exploit constitutional ambiguities and unprecedented interpretations of law to sow confusion and cling to office with the support of his hand-picked President, leaving no option but to drag the Umpire into the fray.
Some people don’t rule out the possibility that Imran Khan could outwit the Establishment and the Opposition to survive until the scheduled elections next year and then go on to rig them and rule autocratically for another term. Such people discount the angry mood and will of the people. Civil-military politicians who have tried to subvert the constitution, steal mandates and install hybrid or authoritarian regimes have always got their comeuppance sooner or later.