“Without firing a shot, the Pakistani Awam is abusing the Pakistani Fauj. India could have spent thousands of crores but still it could not have achieved this objective. And the man behind this is Imran Khan. He is our best friend.” Thus spoke Maj (retd) Gaurav Arya, India’s popular strategic analyst, countering the perception that Imran Khan is anti-India. But PTI supporters are not prepared to face reality.
A statement by ISPR last week clarified that the National Security Committee headed by PM Imran Khan a month ago rejected the notion of any conspiracy by the United States for regime change in Pakistan. Now a National Security Committee headed by PM Shehbaz has confirmed this finding. But PTI supporters are not prepared to face reality.
Imran Khan spent nearly one billion rupees helicoptering from Bani Gala to the PM’s House. Yet Fawad Chaudhry insisted the cost of travel was no more than PKR 55 per km. Imran Khan commandeered dozens of precious gifts from the Toshakhana worth nearly PKR200m at a fraction of the market price. So what, retort PTI supporters, he was entitled to keep them, even though he admits he sold some of them. They are not prepared to face reality.
The Foreign Funding Case reveals embezzlement of tens of billions by hand-picked lieutenants of Imran Khan. Even now, after seven long years delaying indictment by the Election Commission of Pakistan, PTI lawyers are not ready to wrap it up and PTI supporters are not ready to face reality.
There is a long list of corrupt, undemocratic and unconstitutional acts and practices during Imran Khan’s rule. Slowly, the sordid truth is beginning to filter out. But PTI supporters insist that such charges apply exclusively to the Sharifs and Zardari-Bhuttos. They are not prepared to face reality.
Now that the PTI is out of office, it is demanding immediate elections. Never mind that Imran Khan spurned the same demand when the opposition cried itself hoarse for three years accusing Imran Khan of being a “selected” PM on the basis of rigged elections. Why, ask PTI supporters, wasn’t Imran Khan allowed to complete his five year term “in the larger interest of democracy and civilian supremacy”, conveniently ignoring the reality that Imran Khan spent the better part of 2008-2018 successfully agitating for the premature ouster of PPP and PMLN Prime Ministers.
PTI propagandists have built a powerful narrative to prop up Imran Khan. This is based on the some carefully crafted perceptions. “He is anti-America”, never mind that after he returned from his embrace of President Donald Trump two years ago he gushed that he felt as elated as when he won the World Cup for Pakistan 1992. “He is anti-imperialist”, never mind that there is a contradiction in terms with being pro-capitalism and anti-imperialist at the same time. “He is a populist”, never mind that this term has nothing to do with being popular and everything to do with being authoritarian and delusional. “He is an Islamic nationalist”, never mind that dictator General Zia ul Haq was one too, even when he was serving the interests of the US in Afghanistan.
The notion that he is so “popular” that he can win any free election hands down is also wrong. If that had been the case, the MNAs and MPAs who have deserted the PTI in droves, despite the certainty of being de-seated, would have stayed put. Most have done so because they know a PTI ticket is a sure shot recipe for defeat in the next elections, so alienated are their supporters from their party. Current public opinion polls suggest that at least in the largest province, Punjab, that accounts for over half the seats in parliament, the PMLN is far ahead of the PTI in electoral prospects.
But if that is the case, argue PTI supporters, why wasn’t Imran Khan allowed to complete his five year term, and be fairly defeated at the polls?
There is one main reason why PDM risked ousting Imran Khan now and inheriting a mauled and stricken economy instead of waiting until next year to defeat him at the polls. If Khan had lasted beyond November 2022, he would have hand-picked the next army chief to help him rig the 2023 elections (the same one who did the needful in 2018 and propped him up subsequently, the very same over whom he picked a fight with the army high command) and together they would have decimated the opposition, strengthened the hybrid regime and consolidated a centrist authoritarian order in the next six years. Therefore, it was a do or die, now or never, bid by the PDM.
That also explains why Imran Khan wants a quick election now. He thinks he has rejuvenated his support base by his “populist narrative” to enable a win today so that he is in the chair come November 2022. His target is the Pakistan army high command whose “neutrality” created an opening for the PDM to marshal its allies and oust him, so fragile and dependent was the coalition that kept him in office. By driving a sharp wedge in the army’s rank and file, he hopes to pressurize the high command to relent and open the route for him to return to office. Alternatively, one can conclude that his whole political strategy now is geared to getting an NOC from the military establishment that he has angered and alienated rather than trying to win an election. What so rejoices Major (retd) Gaurav Arya, the arch enemy, is par for the course for Khan.
Less than 1000 BOTs manipulated by less than 100 PTI supporters out of over 60 m internet users in Pakistan have engineered a terrible, transformative brainwashing of Pakistan’s post-Zia children. Nearly 22 percent or 50m of Pakistan’s population is between the age of 18-30 and 4 million are being added to this category every year. Part of this Youthia bulge is susceptible to the PTI narrative. Thankfully, however, there is still another Pakistan out there whose majority is not fooled. And if one is to go by the relatively modest crowd at Imran Khan’s Lahore jalsa this week and his dull, repetitive speech, it may be argued that the current passion is likely to dissipate over time. Certainly, if Maryam Nawaz Sharif should come out to show PDM muscle and the PDM government is able to exploit the same social media tools to counter Imran Khan’s narrative, the theory of his great popularity may be exploded sooner than later and fact may finally triumph over fiction.