Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam talks about a contentious
Ruling out PTI – Though it appears that the time for change has arrived but the way it is brought about is not only very contentious but also dubious. However, the real change that has taken place is the radical shift in geopolitical advantage Pakistan made use of all the past decades and dealt with them as a rentier state. Pakistani policy makers now acknowledge that their maneuvering space has considerably been restricted and they may not be able to wage covert war in the region to distract their countrymen from the socio-economic problems encountered by them. With the passage of time their efficacy to engineer situations in the country has also reduced and they now face daunting odds to design national scenario according to their perception and benefit. PTI probably was the last successful engineering venture they undertook but that largely failed exposing the limitations they now face and have to live with. Compelled to backtrack they have started to dismantle the PTI but it is fast becoming clear that they are bereft of innovative methods to do it and are using the old playbook that has higher prospects of failure than they anticipate. This drawback is clearly reflected in their efforts to raise an alternative force to PTI bringing to fore the fact that they have learnt little from their past mistakes.
What is however apparent is that efforts are on to isolate Imran Khan by employing a multi-pronged strategy that, at best, is partially working. To begin with his persona was restricted on both print and electronic media ostensibly on behest of the authorities representing establishment though these measures did not ensure his complete blackout and he remains visible on social media and his cult group still believes in him and his mission. His movement has also been restricted except his presence at court hearings under very tight security that is also increased by his self-employed security that appears quite unnecessary and looks rather foolish. He is deeply entangled in a web of legal charges and cases that keep on increasing by the day. Hundreds of his supporters are incarcerated on charges of vandalising several state buildings, including military properties, martyrs’ monuments and sites such as the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and the corps commander’s residence in Lahore. The official point of view is that Imran Khan instigated his followers to rise against the military establishment and does not accept that the protests against Imran Khan’s arrest were spontaneous and insist that the disturbances were planned with targets specifically chosen ahead of time.
The other aspect is that the incumbent army leadership has pledged to punish all those involved in the attacks on its sites, as well as vowed to tighten the noose around the masterminds and planners of the 9 May events, dubbing it a black day in the nation’s history. Many members of the incumbent political dispensation have repeatedly hinted at the possibility of Khan’s lifelong disqualification from politics and some have even mooted the banning of PTI itself. However, despite the reservations of civil rights groups, some of the most egregious violators of the law are being tried in military courts. It is being hinted that Khan himself may also face the same fate. Quite intriguingly the hasty efforts to dismantle PTI and isolate Imran Khan from the political mainstream came as a surprise to many rational circles as Pakistan’s history is replete with cracking down on political configurations such as against PPP, MQM and PMLN but these parties could not be obliterated and made political comeback with renewed strength. In this backdrop following the old policy appears to be rather self-defeating and raises questions about the prudence of the decisive decision makers in the country and their lack of ability to adapt to changed circumstances. It frankly appears to be puerile to expect that a set of policies that failed to deliver their intended results in the past will prove effective this time and will give different results.
Nevertheless, this time round the collapse of PTI as an organised political group having credible parliamentary credential and having been in power after winning a national electoral contest was radically different than similarly engendered dismantling of MQM, PMLN and PPP in the past as the process was incredibly swift underlining its engineered nature of construction and its lack of structured support levels both nationally and provincially. Although defections are a part and parcel of the Pakistan’s electoral culture yet the scale of the exodus of the party leadership from PTI appeared nothing short of spectacular as even Imran Khan’s stalwart colleagues including Asad Umar, Pervez Khattak, Shireen Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry, Ali Zaidi and Imran Ismail along with scores of other top leaders deserted the party without further ado. One thing was however quite clear that the defections mostly appeared to have taken place under duress and that the pressure applied on the defectors was visible and, frequently, coming to fore through guarded and reserved demeanour of defectors. Interestingly, stalwart politicians such Ch. Pervez Elahi who joined the party late and ostensible for the sake of high executive government position stood steadfast apparently defying all logic but pointing towards some inexplicable reasons. Shah Mahmood Qureshi was also a riddle as it was not clear whether he was getting preferential treatment or was being weaned away from Imran Khan.
The next phase of the dismantling process was the formation of Istehkam-e-Pakistan (IPP) exactly a month after PTI launched its protests and the effort was led by former key associate of Imran Khan, Jahangir Tareen and many of his former allies notably very rich Aleem Khan who also owns a TV channel. Though the IPP may appear to be a vehicle to gather third force by filling the vacuum created by the eclipse of Imran Khan but it certainly lacks the star status still enjoyed by Imran Khan. It is expected that IPP will primarily cut into PTI’s vote bank and ultimately become an easily manipulated parliamentary rump that may be accessible to the highest bidder with the blessings of the military establishment. It is still to be seen what long term effects the new political engineering efforts will produce as the past is a witness to the fact that political outfits having some clout within the public domain maintain their sustainability and actually grow strong after being seen to be persecuted. The problem with Imran Khan’s populist brand is his direct and open confrontation with the military establishment that may end up getting him reduced to the level of Altaf Hussain and his party discouraged at every point from resurrecting itself again. Whatever comes out in future it must be borne in mind that it is too early to conclude that Imran Khan and PTI have finally been thrown into oblivion as they had carved a niche out for them within pretty large segments of people who may not let them wither away. The jury is out on this matter and it is far too soon to finally announce that PTI has been thrown into the dustbin of history and it would be wrong to assume that it may not rise again. The Weekender