Imran Khan’s Chief of Staff, Shahbaz Gill, recently went on ARY TV to provoke, knowingly and willfully (as he has admitted) officers of the armed forces not to obey “illegal” orders of the high command in support of “evil”. Why did he do so, knowing well that the Miltablishment would consider it tantamount to provoking mutiny and rebellion in the armed forces, whose consequences could potentially lead to a court martial and severe punishment? Why did the Miltablishment opt to arrest him instead of rapping him on the knuckles through a strong warning statement from ISPR. But then how come there was no strong objection from the same quarters when a lower court judge quickly remanded him to judicial custody after only two days in police custody for investigation and interrogation? The questions keep coming.
Why did Imran Khan shift the venue of his August 13th Jalsa from Islamabad to Lahore? Why didn’t he blast the “neutrals” or target the Americans for “changing his regime” as he has done so thunderously in the recent past? Indeed, why didn’t he back up Shahbaz Gill’s statement, confining himself only to the “unfair” arrest and “brutal” treatment meted out to him? Instead, considering how popular he thinks he is, why is he so worried about what liesof in store for him? Why has he come to terms with the fact that a quick election is not in the cards? Why is he so worried that he may be disqualified from contesting elections for not being “Sadiq and Ameen” in consequence the screaming revelations in the Prohibited Funding Report released by the Election Commission of Pakistan?
The answers are blowing in the wind. The Miltablishment has sent Imran Khan its assessment and advice going forward.
‘We didn’t want to oust you and embrace the PDM. But you didn’t leave us with any choice. You brought the economy to the brink of default. You alienated and antagonized our foreign friends and benefactors, especially USA, EU, China and Saudi Arabia. You refused to help us “normalize” with India and cover our flanks. Then you started to interfere in our internal affairs. When we discreetly resisted, you publicly accused us of being “evil” and provoked discontent in our rank and file. After your exit, instead of learning your lessons, you persisted with your damning narrative which destablised the polity and bled the economy. This has compelled us to take a step back and rethink policy going forward, especially in relation to the role that you may or may not be allowed to play. We cannot afford to be discredited in the public imagination any longer for blindly siding with you. But we also have no intention of curbing your populist base.
‘In the national interest, we will not allow the economy to be derailed by political instability. The PDM is cooperating and taking the hard economic decisions at considerable cost to their party interest. That has redeemed it in our eyes. We have determined that the IMF program must not be derailed or interrupted by general elections until next year at least. If you try to sabotage this process, you may expect to face the full wrath of the law. That is why we have given the green light to the Election Commission of Pakistan to release its Report related to the PTI’s prohibited funding case. As you know very well, you have committed various crimes that are many times more serious and incriminating than the unreceived income from his son that led to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. If you don’t see the writing on the wall and adjust your sights accordingly, you will be knocked out swiftly.
‘We would like free and fair elections next year. We want to atone for our disastrous hybrid experiment by creating a level playing field for all players. This means allowing Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan and lead his party. It also means giving you a free hand to contest. Unfortunately, that cannot happen as long as Nawaz is crippled by kangaroo court convictions (which, admittedly, we manipulated out of a sense of misplaced concreteness) and disqualifications and the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head. That means that PTI and PDM must join hands in parliament to undo these threats without threatening our long term institutional power and interests. Or we will be compelled to find other ways of achieving the same end.
‘As a sign of your acquiescence to “Operation Fair Play”, you should discard the “regime change” narrative and reach out to our foreign friends and allies and dispel the apprehensions that have arisen as a consequence of your opportunism or foolishness or both so that the prospect of PTI in office again is not a strict no-no.
‘Should you resist or create more problems, you will be fairly disqualified, detained and convicted. That is another way of creating a level playing field. But it should not come to that if you see the wisdom of what we are saying. Our response to Shahbaz Gill is a warning shot across your bow. We can go easy on him or screw him, depending on what lessons you and your party are prepared to learn. We have left Punjab in your hands so that you are not at a disadvantage. But that can change in the twinkling of an eye if you try to exploit it to destablise the PDM government in Islamabad.
‘One last matter. Come November, there will be no discontinuity or disruption in our institutional response. Do not think otherwise and create controversy to thwart us. The fact that we have not cut short the command tenure of your favourite general should give you some comfort. We have several aces up our sleeves, as we have also informed the PDM.