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Friday, June 14, 2024

Pakistan’s political crises: What went wrong?

The domestic public and expatriates are visibly angry and frustrated. They are convinced that Imran Khan has been removed through foreign-sponsored regime change facilitated by domestic handlers. They are not ready to digest what they saw happening in Sindh House, in Supreme Court and in the parliament. They feel betrayed.

On a fateful day of 27th January 2011 in broad daylight, an American CIA contractor named Raymond Davis killed two young Pakistani men later identified as Faizan Haider 22 and Faheem Shamshad 26 near Mozang Chowrangi in Lahore. Obama administration initially pressurized the Pakistani government to grant blanket diplomatic status to CIA operatives but was resisted by then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi which eventually cost Shah his portfolio in the PPP government. Nevertheless, on 16th March merely within 48 days, Davis secured his release reportedly by paying 2.4 million dollars in blood money to the heirs of Faheem and Faizan.

Agonizingly Faheem’s young wife in utter desperation committed suicide fearing Davis’s release.  The national indignation was directed towards the PPP-led federal government, Pmln led Punjab government and the military establishment for the usual meek surrender.  General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani then COAS in reply to establishment and agencies’ role in Davis’s release, revealed that establishment/ agencies facilitated the civilian governments by making all the heirs agree to accept the blood money as the civilian government lacked the capacity to engage all the heirs simultaneously.

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Understanding the matter better

On another fateful day, April 9, 2022, the PTI-led government was ousted through a no-confidence motion (NCM) by a coalition of over a dozen parties in the parliament. The Series of events that ended at midnight voting on the no-confidence motion was full of surprises and counter surprises. While all the political pundits can enumerate pronounced milestones that eventually led to Imran Khan’s ouster, but none can convincingly indicate the pivotal event that led the dice rolling. The events that finally tore apart the same page mantra and ended the impression that all strong institutions were supporting the elected civilian government still remain inconclusive.

The release of Nawaz Sharif, slow progress on NAB and other corruption cases, foreign policy differences particularly PM visit to Moscow, the appointment of present DG ISI or guarantees on extension or appointment of next COAS are referred as some issues to had caused discord among the power players that eventually ripped apart the impression of being on the same page.  The extinction of support from powerful institutions suddenly exposed the unnatural coalition to an existential threat. Imran Khan was ruling with support of unnatural allies on one of the thinnest margins in our political discourse.

NCM was tabled on 8th March 2022 but a significant development on 6th October 2021 exposed the civil-military discord when General Bajwa unilaterally appointed General Nadeem Anjum as head of premier intelligence agency in major military reshuffle that Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to notify terming it his official prerogative. Perhaps the PM could sense the upcoming storm with this last reshuffle in the military top brass.   The Prime Minister eventually conceded under pressure hopelessly hoping that the notification may contribute to damage control. The appointment of Nadeem Anjum as DG ISI suddenly energized the exhausted opposition.

The unabated criticism of the military among the leadership of Pmln was replaced with an appreciation of neutrality, ultimately leading to tabling of NCM. It’s on record that top tier of joined opposition particularly Khaqan Abbasi, Maryam Nawaz, Rana Sana and few others had publicly admitted that NCM without guaranteed support of powerful quarters may prove a futile attempt. Taking their own words suggests finally they were extended guaranteed support of powerful quarters.

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The tabling of NCM caused tremors among the PTI members and allies

Dissidents among the PTI ranks started falling apart like dead leaves of autumn. The allies initially made some unreasonable political demands but finally joined hands with the opposition. BAP, MQM, JWP and a couple of MNAs of the Q league ended up supporting the opposition. The top leadership of Pmln and PPP gladly embraced the parting allies of PTI despite repeatedly accusing them of being political surrogates of military establishment in the recent past.

These sudden developments unsettled the ruling party searching for a powerful counter-narrative. Imran Khan gave a successful call for massive public support on 27th March where addressing a sea of supporters who revealed a US led conspiracy transforming into NCM. The narrative was well-articulated, powerful and massively effective. Later in an address to the nation, Imran Khan vowed that the handlers of NCM will ultimately get punished without specifying them.

The political dilemma of Imran was pronounced

He could not specify the handlers and facilitators of NCM. Specifying the handlers could have been too rogue in a political perspective. But just like a foreign-sponsored terrorist attack cannot materialize without local facilitators, a foreign conceived and conspired regime change is highly improbable without powerful domestic handlers.

There are some significant questions still unanswered in the political domain surrounding the whole scenario. For instance who successfully managed the dissension and partition of twenty-odd MNAs of PTI?  Who convinced PTI allies to join the opposition in such a short span of time at such a critical juncture? Why the Supreme Court fail in rendering a decision on the floor crossing issue but promptly took suo moto notice on the deputy speaker’s ruling and decided it in five odd days. How come the Election Commission rendered its inability to hold elections in 90 days its sole constitutional obligation? 

With whose orders the security zone near the parliament was secured on an eventful night of no confidence voting as the sitting government never gave such orders? Who ordered the movement of police and Rangers at midnight on 9th April 2022 as reported in the mainstream media?  How on God’s earth did Chief Justice Supreme Court and IHC opened their courts at midnight and IHC entertained a highly contentious petition merely based on assumptions?

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Answers to all these questions are awaited in the public domain. Going by General Kiani’s assertion, it was beyond the capacity and capabilities of joined opposition to accomplish such complex tasks enumerated in the preceding paragraph. If the military establishment was neutral as they claimed then who was calling all these shots? This is indeed the elephant in the room assumingly ignored by all. Imran Khan is presently building the narrative on threatening diplomatic cable and is not finger-pointing toward the powerful domestic handlers for reasons best known to him. This strategy is bound to change at least in the long term.

The higher judiciary will bear severe public criticism for ignoring to form a commission to investigate letter gate despite repeated requests of the sitting government. It will also face criticism for its apparent double standards in hastily deciding some relevant cases while conveniently throwing the others in the backburners. The nation remembers how the higher judiciary formed a commission on memogate.

The domestic public and expatriates are visibly angry and frustrated. They are convinced that Imran Khan has been removed through foreign-sponsored regime change facilitated by domestic handlers. They are not ready to digest what they saw in happening in Sindh House, in Supreme Court and the parliament. They feel betrayed.

They are relentlessly searching for all these unanswered questions

The encouraging aspect for Imran Khan is massive public support, particularly strong support from expatriates and retired military officers which is unprecedented in our chequered political history. The sentiments of retired officers are a reflection of serving officers too from where these retired officers hail. Imran Khan claimed that the NCM was the foreign-sponsored move of “Regime Change”. The allegation if true is a serious constitutional violation by all those who facilitated it. The domestic handlers can temporarily have a sigh of relief.

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They are presented like an elephant in the room, known to all yet not pointed out. But the chain will eventually break and information needed to answer all the unanswered questions shall ooze out into the public domain. These will be testing times for those who were calling shots in these last couple of months. The public wrath may then not be tamed on appeals of national security, threats to center of gravity or causing dissent among the rank and files.


Aamir Khattak has done MPhil in Strategic Studies from National Defense University. Has twenty-five years experience of service in Defence services. His areas of interest include media narratives, national-internal affairs and security issues. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.