The pitch of the Pakistan-versus-Australia test match this week would have been dead, but the politics in and around the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad was a live wire. Political moves, hidden tricks and trades, the unknown conspiring hands and whiffs of ending reign are the ingredients for a racy wicket of Imran Khan versus anyone who isn’t ‘Khan’. ‘The game is on’ — is the call from everyone, even bystanders, in this match.
172 or not
After months of rumours, the opposition parties — including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party — filed a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly on 8 March. It was a move that the Opposition claims has the ‘magical numbers of 172’ (and more) to win. There are those ‘unnamed’ members from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who are unhappy in the centre. Then there are those ‘named’ PTI dissenters in Punjab who want to oust chief minister Usman Buzdar, a demand that Khan has opposed from day one due to reasons best known to all but can’t be said aloud.
Hailed as ‘Wasim Akram plus’, Buzdar, for years, has been defended by PM Khan for doing path-breaking work in the province that only he knows about. To his credit, Buzdar did try to find out in the early days of the pandemic “Yeh corona kat’ta kaise hai” — let’s not forget that giant breakthrough that went nowhere.
Also not to forget the good allies of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid and other such groups. Where do they stand? They will stand wherever the winds of change from Rawalpindi will want them to. At the moment, these allies are playing ‘good cop’, not ‘bad cop’ roles. To the Imran Khan government, they say ‘hum sath sath hain’, to the Opposition, they ask ‘hum apke hain kaun?’, wanting their piece in the future political pie. Even if the allies withdraw their support to the government, it won’t reach a no-confidence move to remove. Politics, still, is the art of ‘possible impossibilities’.
Umpire is neutral, umpire is not neutral
Last year in March, Imran Khan took a successful voluntary vote of confidence in the National Assembly after his party lost a Senate seat. Decades have passed within a year. Things don’t look the same; that unending same page parroting has flown away and been replaced with “army would never support these thieves”.
Running from pillar to post to garner the support of all his political allies is the prime minister; he also is raging simultaneously at his opponents. He promises former President Asif Ali Zardari that his “gun is now aimed at Zardari”; he wants to call former Opposition Leader Fazal-ur-Rehman names such as “Fazloo”, “Diesel”, and for Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, the titles of “Showbaz”, “boot polisher” are reserved. Frothing at the mouth in every public outing since the tabling of the no-confidence motion, PM Khan is flabbergasted. And it is not a good look for the office he holds.
The desperation can be blamed on the notion of “establishment is neutral now” — to be precise, the pair of selector and umpire who brought Khan in office are ‘neutral’ now. How neutral? Enough for the Opposition to reach this far, and enough to have these constant meltdowns of losing the chair. Historically, the establishment in Pakistan has been as neutral as the current speaker of the National Assembly, who on the eve of the no-confidence motion filing, tweeted: #IStandWithImranKhan.
Sab Amerika kara raha hai
Not jumping on the #IStandWithImranKhan bandwagon are the supposed foreign hands drumming up the ‘alami sazish’ against the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Khan believes it, his ministers believe it, and so should you if you have believed anything this joker regime has sold to you, including the top-selling national ‘chooran‘ ‘jo kara raha hai, Amerika kara raha hai (America is behind everything that happens in Pakistan)’. That’s the conspiracy they’ve churned out — Khan being some anti-America, anti-West rebel who has become a hurdle for these foreign powers and they want to get rid of him. Sure. US President Joe Biden wants to get rid of Khan so that he is no longer asked about those phone calls he never made to him.
The rest of the Western world is just jealous of the unseen honey and milk rivers flowing in Naya Pakistan. And not to forget the tune of Khan saying “absolutely not” to basically nothing or selling the idea that the US wanted airbases, we said ‘absolutely not’ and then giving a policy statement that oh, we actually stopped the US from asking for airbases. How did that work? Were they typing to ask and we blocked them on WhatsApp before they could do so?
After endlessly convincing the people that he knows the West more than anyone else, the Prime Minister now wants to build a ‘world conspiracy’ narrative around his possible ouster. In achieving that he’d not mind pricking the European Union envoys, whom he, in a jalsa, asked if they consider Pakistan their slave. This was in response to a letter written to Pakistan on the United Nations General Assembly voting over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Later, the PM tells us that he never said anything against the EU, then, were we all hallucinating? Or did alami powers make him say what we heard? Confusing. Also confusing is that PM Khan said that he was praying for the no-confidence move to be tabled — now, are those behind the move foreign hands or hands in prayer?
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, probably the one who has an answer to the “are we slaves” query, showed disdain over the public calling out of the EU envoys by the PM. Other ministers parrot the same “foreign hands” conspiracy, sharing posts with Opposition leaders being flanked by the EU and US flags. As a result, back-to-back high official meetings have been cancelled by the UK. But who is counting when the focus is on boasting about non-existent diplomatic achievements from the Moscow yatra? It is understandable why the sarkari social media runs #ExpelAmericanAmbassador; the only problem is that there is no US ambassador in Pakistan at the moment.
There are miles to go before the political fate of PM Imran Khan is sealed and all signs suggest that he will fight it to the end. And he should, even if he is the last man standing. If last night’s crackdown in Parliament lodges and rounding up of opposition members suggests anything, it is that the government will use any means to dampen the move. Even if it means opposition parliamentarians going missing or mayhem. After all, the Imran Khan government is a child of anarchy.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)