Pakistan’s Opposition parties adopted a strategy of patience, thereby wearing Imran Khan down, aware that they were backed by the most powerful organisation in the country — the army

by Major Gen Harsha Kakar (Retd)

The recently concluded constitutional crisis in Pakistan leading to the ouster of Imran Khan by a no-confidence vote was a play of competing strategies by major players involved. The game began months ago when the army noticed an independent Imran Khan challenging his backers. The delay in appointing a new DG of the ISI was an indicator of things to come.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa had by then realised that Imran Khan was the wrong horse, causing damage to the carefully nurtured Pakistan-US and Pakistan-Europe relations. While Imran Khan remained popular because of his clean image, his policies were leaving Pakistan in financial ruins. Western nations had dumped Pakistan as Imran made no effort to enhance ties with them. Other than Switzerland, where he went to attend the World Economic Forum, he visited no other European capital. His public support to the Taliban went against the Pakistan Army’s carefully nurtured image of supporting the US-led global war on terror, thereby obtaining military and economic aid from it.

For the first two years as prime minister, Imran Khan behaved like an obedient puppy following the diktats of his masters, which changed when he believed that he had the backing of the masses. His bloated ego failed to make him realise that the common man was facing undue hardships and he needed to be sympathetic. Such was his ego that he stated, “I did not come to politics to know the price of potatoes and tomatoes.” He kept rattling about a Medina state, knowing it was only fantasy.

When faced with a no-confidence motion and announcement of neutrality by the army, Imran Khan went on an offensive, challenging everyone, angering many. His accusation of the US as being responsible for his downfall was done knowingly, as apart from being considered as infidels, he had been ignored by Joe Biden. He also targeted the army’s neutrality, when he stated, “Humans act according to their conscience. And only animals remain neutral.” While his comments were lapped up by his supporters, they added to enemies. It is only in Pakistan that neutrality has a different meaning.

This strategy continued in the Senate where he decided to commit a civilian coup and dump the Constitution. When forced to face the motion of no-confidence on orders of the Supreme Court, Imran Khan began plotting on removing the Army chief thereby delaying the vote. Any self-respecting national leader would have stepped down realising that he no longer possesses a majority. Imran Khan did not and was forced to go home in disgrace.

The Opposition parties adopted a strategy of patience, thereby wearing Imran down, aware that they were backed by the most powerful organisation in the country — the army. They neither fell into Imran’s trap by inciting the public nor resorted to illegal means to push their agenda. They knew victory would be theirs. Even now they are displaying the same approach. Their patience has paid off, with their own Speaker of the National Assembly and the chief minister of Punjab in place. The president, another ardent Imran backer, has yet to interact with the new prime minister while refusing to swear in the new government. He would be the next casualty.

The army chief alongside his ISI DG adopted a strategy to systematically break down Imran Khan’s support base. They first sabotaged the appointment of his main backer in uniform, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, as DG of ISI, thereby ensuring he could no longer influence the future turn of events. Imran attempted to stall the same but was forced to buckle under Gen Bajwa’s pressure. He missed reading the tea leaves.

They next encouraged the Opposition into unifying, a task which is never easy in Pakistan, considering generations of hostility between political parties. It involved selecting a nondescript individual, Fazal-ur-Rehman, as their leader. He would never be in competition with main political parties. Then they evaluated who would be the next prime minister. Shehbaz Sharif was always an army favourite and could be persuaded to carry all along. Imran’s ego and over-confidence resulted in him ranting about the corruption of the Opposition parties and blaming them for every failure in Pakistan’s history. This only goaded them into maintaining unity, thus countering Imran’s carefully nurtured offensive strategy with silence.

Once this was established, the Army went in for the final kill, which was breaking Imran’s coalition. By pushing defections from within his party it ensured that even if Imran came for the vote, he would lack numbers. Turning his coalition partners was done steadily from behind the curtains and all within the gambit of the Constitution. Imran’s bloated ego had made him ignore his coalition partners and hence it was fairly easy for the army to push the breakup.

The army had evidently taken the Supreme Court into confidence. The court remaining open late at night to monitor Imran’s downfall adds credence to this. It is well-known that in Pakistan, the ISI maintains a close watch on all politicians and judges and is aware of each individual’s shortcomings. It twisted their tails and created requisite numbers for the Opposition to push the no-confidence motion while ensuring legal backing.

The army was also aware that Imran may make one final attempt and that needed to be blocked. On the day of voting, army columns of the 111 Brigade, also known as the coup brigade, rolled out. They were only to act in case Imran crossed the red line. This could be justified as backing the Constitution. The final warning was conveyed when the Army chief and DG of ISI met Imran, hours before the vote.

It was only then that Imran realised that all had failed, and he had misjudged the Opposition that he was against. He is aware that he will never ever have the establishment’s support to become a prime minister again. All he can do now is create an environment where he is individually not targeted by agencies and remains relevant in Pakistan politics. This also appears difficult as the witch hunt to force him out of the political game has commenced.