Imran Khan drew international fame during the 1992 World Cup for preaching the “cornered tigers” mentality, which required the Pakistani team to do what it takes to win. Khan likes to draw a lot of parallels from his playing days, most recently claiming that he will take three wickets with one ball. Now, it seems that he is cornered again, and is trying desperately to break the shackles.
However, as we have seen over the past three and a half years of PTI leadership, what works in the field of sports does not work in politics.
When the no-confidence motion was first being discussed among the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed famously quipped that the establishment was neutral. This statement sent the media into a frenzy with analysts scratching their heads trying to figure out how the establishment could be courting both sides of the aisle.
Since then, national discourse has revolved around trying to figure out clues for the establishment’s supposed neutrality. Many have stated that the fact that the opposition took this long to table a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly meant that the PDM was not getting the green light they were looking for. Others also pointed to the PML-N spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb’s statement that certain opposition figures had received calls from establishment figures to subvert their loyalty.
Now, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry made another vague reference stating that the government, politics, and the future all belong to the PTI. When asked about the establishment’s support, Chaudhry elaborated that the above three things cannot co-exist without all power brokers being on the same page.
Should we take this at face value to mean that the establishment is standing with the government, or should we take them as veiled swipes at the establishment to seek their support?
Most likely, these are signs of desperation. His statement that the government is willing to make a deal with the opposition if they choose to drop the no-confidence motion is another evidence of desperation. The government is clawing back aimlessly in a last-ditch effort to save a crumbling empire.
The opposition would not have tabled the no-confidence motion if they did not think it would succeed, which means the establishment might finally have given them the go-ahead. And why would they not?
The opposition would not have tabled the no-confidence motion if they did not think it would succeed, which means the establishment might finally have given them the go-ahead. And why would they not? They have already faced widespread public backlash for hitching their wagons to a PTI government that has been a constant show of governance and economic failures. Why would they want this sort of treatment to continue?
Convoluted statements are not the only signs that Imran Khan is panicking. History tells us that when leaders start to lose their grip on power, they start flailing around in a desperate fit to regain public support. Over the past few months, Khan has done just that. His trip to Russia tops that list.
Many have rightfully pointed out that the trip was months in the making and cancelling it last minute would reflect horribly on a country that can ill-afford to lose ties with another superpower, considering an already fragile relationship with the US. However, it must also be noted that nothing significant came out of it. No Memorandum of Understandings were signed, nor did Russia pledge to invest in Pakistani economy. The trip was most likely an attempt by President Putin to use PM Khan as an image of business-as-usual while he was ordering an invasion into Ukraine.
International diplomacy is a delicate endeavour. To be seen shaking hands with the leader of a country facing international rebuke and condemnation essentially indicates that a country is taking sides openly. Those presented with this argument are quick to point out Western hypocrisy, or that Pakistan should adopt a policy of non-alignment and look after its own interests without regard to how situations may seem to the West.
While all that is properly arguable, it cannot be denied that Pakistan is heavily reliant on the West for foreign aid and trade. The US is our biggest export partner, with the UK third, Germany fourth, and other Western nations following that. Russia does not even feature in the top 10. In a country that is suffering from a huge misbalance between exports and imports, can Pakistan really afford to offend the West, against our own economic interests?
And then there are the PTI rallies, where Imran Khan seems more to be playing opposition, than a sitting government bidding for re-election. In a now widely circulated quote on social media, Khan says he will be more dangerous outside than inside the government. Dangerous for who, the opposition if it manages to get the no-confidence motion passed? Or the establishment if it does not support him? Only an insecure leader unsure about his own future can make such a statement.
Khan knows that he might not be the prime minister come April and, as a result, will not have to face the economic ramifications of such policies. Therefore, he is adopting a myopic yet calculated approach to gain public appeasement so that as an opposition leader, he can at least lay claim to the fact that he tried to do something for the country economically, and that he stood up to the West.
The economic relief package is also an extension of the same desperation. Pakistan’s current account deficit is about to touch a historic high of USD20 billion and amidst such alarming trends, Khan has announced a relief package that will mightily cost the national exchequer and goes against the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on reducing spending and increasing taxation.
Which begs the question, did Khan know of this? When amendments under Section 20 of PECA were passed by presidential ordinance, it was suggested by the IHC that Khan might have been ‘misled’ by advisers on the constitutional impact of such a policy. However, it is unlikely that he was misled then, and it is unlikely that he has been misled now. Khan knows that he might not be the prime minister come April and, as a result, will not have to face the economic ramifications of such policies. Therefore, he is adopting a myopic yet calculated approach to gain public appeasement so that as an opposition leader, he can at least lay claim to the fact that he tried to do something for the country economically, and that he stood up to the West, as ill-advised as such moves might have been at the time.
Perhaps the writing was always on the wall once Khan tried to do a quid pro quo with the army over the appointment of DG ISI. However, Khan is now openly calling out the establishment by making claims that only animals, not people, are neutral. To make such bold assertions as a sitting premier, against an establishment that brought him into power in the first place, only indicates one thing — that Khan is desperate and is preparing for his stint in the opposition.
These are just some of the many ways indicating that Khan realizes his hold on power might be coming to an end. The coincidental renovation of Assembly chambers deserves special mention, in addition to the Mohsin Baig incident and the flurry of meetings with the PTI allies — PML-Q and MQM-P. Khan, not known for his humility, even chose to swallow his pride and contact disgruntled former PTI member Jahangir Tareen, who has the support of several MNAs.
Zahid Fazal, a forgotten member of the 1992 World Cup winning team, recalled how Khan had a tiger t-shirt stuffed in the bottom of his kit bag that he wore in crunch games. Now faced with the same predicament, this time in the political arena, Khan seems to have donned the same t-shirt. However, as stated before, the approach that might work when defending 249 against England in the final might not necessarily work when facing a no-confidence motion in the parliament.
Only time will tell if Khan or the opposition triumphs. By April 1, the country will have an answer.