Are Imran Khan’s Days Counted?


In May 1988, then Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohammad Khan Junejo visited some South East Asian countries where he very confidently told his hosts that democracy had come to stay in his country. Back home, before he could step out from his PIA plane, he was served with a sack order from then Army Chief-cum-President Gen Ziaul Haq. Zia adopted this crude method to humiliate his own hand-picked Prime Minister perhaps to convey a message to the people at home and abroad that the position of a Pakistani Prime Minister should not be taken for granted. Between the sacking of Junejo and his death in an air crash on August 17, 1988, Ziaul Haq ruled Pakistan without a Prime Minister unconstitutionally, though – perhaps to emphasize that the position of a Prime Minister in Pakistan was redundant.
Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead at public meeting in Rawalpindi in 1951. Between then and the advent of military rules in October 1958, Pakistan saw about half a dozen Prime Ministers come and go. Usually these Prime Ministers do not count much in the history of democracy of that country. The actual history of Prime Ministers begins from August 14, 1973 when Parliament approved the new Constitution which still exists as the 1973 constitution. On this day, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chief Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom the defeated Army had made the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) after surrendering to the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, was elected Prime Minister by Parliament.
As prime Minister Bhutto had two bitter experiences: (1) the Army which made him the CMLA, was conspiring to topple him with the help of politicians; (2) The people, who had voted his party in the December 1970 elections, held by then military ruler Gen. Yahya Khan, were joining the rallies of pro-Army politicians to get rid of him. Ultimately, he was toppled by his trusted sycophant General Ziaul Haq, with the support of political parties who had merged themselves in the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). Initially Bhutto had not taken the PNA seriously. He thought the Army, headed by his sycophant general would see to it. But the Army refused to oblige him. Bhutto was overthrown in July in 1977 and hanged in April 1979 by the same General.
Today, the ghost of the late 1970’s is haunting Pakistan. Here is a Prime Minister (Imran Khan), who the opposition alleges was imposed on Pakistan by the Army by rigging the July 2018 elections to prevent re-emergence of the Muslim League. As Bhutto faced and initially ignored the PNA, Imran Khan is faced with the threat of an “Azadi March” to topple his government. The call of this march to Islamabad is given by Deobandi Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (JuI) Chief Maulana Fazalur Rahman. His father Maulana Mufti Mehmud had played a leading role in the PNA to topple Bhutto.
Imran and the Maulana have been on a war path. In the 2013 elections, Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had wiped out Maulana’s JuI from its stronghold, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, since then the Maulana has not forgiven Imran. And Imran cannot control his fulminations against him. The Maulana calls him an Israeli agent in Pakistan because of his ex-Jew wife.
As the reports of Imran’s failure to manage the economy mounted like a scandal and the public unrest increased because of high prices and shortages of essential commodities, within 100 days of his rule, the Maulana, to take advantage of the situation, announced a million “Azadi March” to Islamabad. He said the march would continue till Imran’s government was dislodged. He has changed the march date a couple of times. Now it is fixed for October 27. Some newspapers it will start from Sindh.
The Maulana was confident that opposition parties including the Nawaz Muslim League, the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP) which had initially rejected the results of the July 2018 elections as rigged, would join the march. But they are in a willing-to-wound but afraid-to-strike dilemma. The truth is they are afraid of entering into conflict with the Army believing Prime Minister Imran is its appointee. The Nawaz League is divided on the question of support to the march. Jailed Nawaz Sharif wants the party to participate in the march, but his younger brother Shehbaz, who is leading the party for now and was known for his contacts with the Army generals, wants the party to keep away from the march. But there is no party whip against participating in the march. Thousands of Nawaz Muslim Leaguers have been nursing their grouse against the humiliation meted out to their party and their leaders in the past two years by the establishment. They, including the women sympathizers of the party, may find an opportunity in the march to give vent to their anger. The Maulana has told the Nawaz Muslim League not to allow their women to join the march.
So far the PPP is non-committal about the march. But various statements of its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto indicate the party will give “outside” support to the march. In one statement to the media outside the Adiala jail where his father and former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari is incarcerated in Rawalpindi, he said the people are drowned in the tsunami of rising prices. They should come on the roads and send this “puppet government” back home. By calling Imran’s government a puppet government, he was airing the general view that the generals hold the strings of this government. “Pakistan Today” wrote on October 06, “Perhaps for the first time in the history of the country an elected Prime Minister is on the same page as the Establishment”. Secondly, Bilawal’s call to the people to come out on the roads against this government suggested that he was egging on them to join the Maulana’s march on October 27.
The main plank of the Azadi March, as the Maulana claims, is the PTI government’s failure on the economic front. But the PPP and the Nawaz League fear that the march could ultimately convert into an Islamic movement just as anti-Bhutto movement, the PNA, ultimately became Nizam-e-Mustaf (Islamic rule) under the sly support of then Army Chief Gen Ziaul Haq. To strengthen the fears of the PPP and the Nawaz League, the Maulana has approached the Islamic parties’ alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This alliance was formed with the blessings of then Army Chief-cum-President Gen Pervez Musharraf just before the 2002 elections. He organized it to keep the PPP and the Nawaz League from Parliament.
It is unthinkable that the Azadi March under Maulana Fazlur Rahman will not be Islamic. Already, he has started preparing a Khaki Clad Force of more than 12,000 men from all the four provinces for security purposes. This force is named “Ansar-ul-Islam” and is said to be getting its training in camps in Peshawar. It is expected that one million students from JuI-run madrashas will join the march. The party is collecting thousands of battens with black and white stripes (symbolizing JuI flag) painted on them.
Two important questions arise:
(1) Where will the money come from for this massive indefinite march? The PNA movement in 1977, if Bhutto is to be believed, was funded by the American Embassy in Islamabad. Will the Maulana have the same source of funding as Imran Khan had for his massive dharna in Islamabad from August 14, 2014, to December 16, 2014, for the ouster of Nawaz Sharif’s government?
(2) What is the Army’s stand on the Maulana’s march? A section of the Pakistani press opines that ultimately “the third umpire”, meaning the Army, might intervene. There are those who fear 1977 could be repeated. In 1977, the PNA movement led to the suspension of democracy for 11 years.
Imran’s failure in economic and foreign relations might be embarrassing to the Army, which in the eyes of the common Pakistanis is the Godfather. Imran has an over simplified view of economy. He believed economy will bloom if you weed out corrupt people. Speaking in the Chinese Council of International Trade in Beijing on October 8, he praised President Xi Jinping for putting 400 corrupt people in jail. He said he will put 500 corrupt people in jail in Pakistan.By Samuel Baid