The Opposition has finally stitched it up. At last count, it had confirmed over 200 votes to oust the PTI government in Islamabad. These include most PTI allies plus a significant chunk of sitting PTI MNAs answering either to Jehangir Tareen or dealing directly with Nawaz Sharif. It was important to get past this 200 number because Imran Khan is sure to offer fresh inducements to his allies while pushing state institutions like the FIA, NAB and Police to cut the Opposition down to size. A formal notice of no-confidence is expected to be lodged next week if – the big IF — all goes according to plan.
Significantly, the Opposition has decided to focus on ousting Imran Khan and postponed “other” thorny issues till after a successful vote of no-confidence. These “other” issues include who will be the new Leader of the House or prime minister, what will be the composition of the new government, for how long will this government last, what steps it will take to order and ensure free and fair elections and whether or not all or some provincial assemblies will also be dissolved and national and provincial elections will be held simultaneously as in the past.
But there is a big assumption underlying this forecast. That is, IF the ubiquitous Miltablishment does not signal NO, or otherwise. Indeed, the delay in announcing an irrevocable date for D-Day is related to confirming assurances of “neutrality” from the Miltablishment that has time and again bailed out Imran Khan and “betrayed” the opposition. An indication of the sort of uncertainty that exists on this front can be gauged from a recent statement by Mariyyum Aurangzeb, the PMLN spokesperson, accusing (and warning) a top pro-Imran Khan Miltablishment official based in Peshawar of calling up PMLN MNAs and asking them to refrain from participating in this exercise. The opposition knows that if this move fails for one reason or another, it won’t get another chance for a long time, during which Imran Khan may be expected to reset and consolidate his power equation with the Miltablishment and divide and rule over the opposition.
Curiously, while the war clouds are darkening over his political horizon, Imran Khan has jetted off for a meeting with Vladimir Putin, the modern Russian Tsar, in Moscow, who decided to invade Ukraine, trigger war and incur global condemnation. In the event, there was no joint statement, press conference or banquet for the visitor. This is a case of either over-confidence – the Miltablishment is with him and he doesn’t have to worry about anything — or cynical desperation – it’s all over, so might as well get some billing back home for meeting the top world leader of the moment! Certainly, there was nothing in the brief meeting that would suggest any “breakthroughs” in the realm of “geoeconomics” or “geostrategies”.
There is, of course, no doubt that Imran Khan has alienated, or lost the support of, most sectors of state and society at home in less than four years. By virtue of its close association with Khan, the Miltablishment is also smarting from the popular backlash against it. A degree of bitter resentment has also seeped into it on account of Khan’s arrogant and dismissive attitude, no less than his attempts to manipulate its leadership. Still, suspicions linger about its readiness to fully trust the Opposition and learn to live and let live with it.
Then there’s the media. It is up in arms against new laws to gag it into submission. Even the most biased pro-Imran anchors and commentators worry about their falling credibility in the face of rising anti-Imran sentiment. But journalists are a cynical lot by definition. If the oppositionists drag their feet much longer on the vote of no-confidence, the media will waste no time in lambasting them.
Not to forget the Election Commission of Pakistan. It is about to release evidence of large-scale fraud and money laundering in the PTI’s foreign funding case. That is bound to make nasty headlines for Imran Khan and facilitate the opposition’s strategy. The ECP also intends to challenge a new Ordinance that violates its code of conduct for candidates and supporters in the run-up to elections.
Finally, the judiciary is waking up to resist Khan’s unconstitutional diktat. The judges in the case against Maryam Nawaz Sharif have ticked off NAB prosecutors for delaying matters because they lack evidence. The Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Athar Minallah, has just upbraided FIA officials for violating SOPs and deliberately misreading sections of the PECA law by arresting media owner-editor Mohsin Baig. Most significantly, the good judge has suspended action under the new PECA amendment aimed at arresting and punishing free speech on social media, which is an indictment against Khan and his yes-men in the law department who drummed up such a black Ordinance in the first place.
But it’s the economy, stupid. It shows no sign of limping out of the Intensive Care Unit. The hardships of the people are not about to go away. Indeed, that is the major reason why the PMLN wants an immediate election after Khan’s ouster which it can win and rule for five years thereafter rather than struggle to lead a government for a year or so and incur the wrath of the people for not being able to deliver before the elections next year.
So we wait and watch for The Big IF …..