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Pakistan still fighting for azadi. Its soap opera has more seasons than Days of Our Lives

A dysfunctional democracy trapped in the claws of the IMF—that’s Pakistan @75.

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Pakistan at 75 remains in pursuit of haqeeqi azadi. An azadi soap opera that has more seasons than the in Days of Our Lives and more twists, turns and drama than any political thriller you would have ever seen.

The plot remains the same. A dysfunctional democracy going nowhere, trapped in the claws of the IMF and relying on dollar handouts from ‘friendly countries’. While those seen running the country aren’t the actors-that-be. One actor propelled to the seat of the prime minister going rogue is the plot twist even the script writers didn’t pen. But here we are now, witnessing magic tricks to put the jinni back into the bottle.

Seventy-five years and how

There was a time when Imran Khan was promising to stay in power for 10 years. Then came in a new government, which promised the moon. But its future remained bleak, given the rising inflation, climbing dollar rate and mounting pressure of an early election. It lost the Punjab bye-polls and the judiciary ruled in favour of Imran Khan’s candidate, making him the chief minister. The writing is on the wall, they said — the coalition government of Shehbaz Sharif will have to go.

Then, like all great thrillers, some things changed, if not everything. The dollar rate climbed down in two weeks and ‘good news’ in the form of an IMF loan was on the way. And then, there were the changing fortunes of Khan and Sharif.

The foreign funding case decision reiterated that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) took funds from foreign entities, individuals and companies that also included Indian and Israeli donors among others. A decision that could lead to the banishment of Imran Khan from Pakistani politics. And that’s not even the beginning of Khan’s problems. There is a Toshakhana case against him for selling State gifts in the open market and not declaring the retained gifts worth PKR 142 million.

Suddenly, the government woke up and realised it could now tighten the noose against its arch rival. But more importantly, the establishment was now signalling that inko chalne de strategy, (let’s not rock the boat as of now) was in play. Usually, when other schemes like the much-hyped Imran Khan project backfire, those leaders who you pushed out remain the only option.

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Bajwa, my maa

Imran Khan’s self-anointed chief of staff Shahbaz Gill, who not too long was saying “meri maa Bajwa hai”, is now in another mood. He appeared on television channel ARY News to claim how the middle and lower ranks of the Pakistan Army were being fed hatred against Khan by senior officers. Shahbaz Gill also urged the officers to not take any “unconstitutional orders”, and that they should rather listen to their “conscience”.

Giving platform to this speech, ARY not only aired the content repeatedly but one of its analysts even agreed how majority of the lower rank officers were pro PTI. “They are full of Imran Khan,” said an excited tajzia kar (analyst) Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain.

Not taking the entire episode lightly, the Shehbaz Sharif government registered a case against Shahbaz Gill, followed by his arrest over abetting mutiny within the armed forces. Some options are floating on how Gill could be tried under the Army Act if the military establishment decides.

The television channel ARY News is now also in the line of fire, with the interior ministry cancelling its No Objection Certificate, and cases registered against its management. ARY, which once served as the mouthpiece of the Pakistan establishment and was at the forefront of campaigns declaring dissenters, activists, journalists, politicians as traitors now finds itself dug deep in the same hole.

ARY News was banned in the United Kingdom after losing several lawsuits over fake news; it now operates as NVTV in the UK. In Pakistan, ARY continued to work as a hired gun of Imran Khan instead of those who were their real ‘benefactors’.

It comes as a shock to the former prime minister that how any of what his ‘chief of staff’ said was out-of-line or crossed those unsaid but known “red lines”. When in the last four months Khan has taken jibes — “Mir Jaffar, Mir Sadiq”, “American agent”, “ghaddar”, “neutral is animal”— didn’t trigger a response. Shocking indeed, since Imran Khan has been at it since his 2014 dharna days: calling for civil disobedience, burning electricity bills, threatening police officers and urging bureaucracy to not take orders of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But watching the ladlas of yesterday facing pushback would make a five-star rating.

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Conspiracy game

Yesterday’s traitors have become today’s patriots. The likes of Imran Khan have been reading the same script for the last ten years, such as blaming Nawaz Sharif for giving away 26/11 shooter Ajmal Kasab’s address in Pakistan. But no one is buying it. Kasab’s Faridkot village was already in the mainstream media and it didn’t require Sharif to pull out his address book to inform the world. We certainly are buying the incarceration of Jamaat ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed in terror financing cases that too during PTI government. That’s the thing about creating political narratives on hypocritical grounds.

Now falling flat is the conspiracy of regime change that began post 10 April. That the United States along with the Pakistani establishment ousted Imran Khan is a record we have heard enough for our lifetime. But then, there is a recent purported “secret video call” between the US ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome and the leader who says that he was conspired against, Imran Khan.

While the rumoured call in which Khan cribbed about Donald Lu’s views and how that shouldn’t have become an official take of the US government, is only denied by PTI. But there are few things one can’t deny: the US ambassador definitely would have heard Khan say ‘hum koi ghulam hain aap kiimported ambassador namanzoor!’ Considering this is the heavy dose of sovereignty and khudari (self-respect), he’s been feeding Pakistanis with. But that doesn’t mean the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can’t take keys of 36 donated vehicles from USAid.

Reminiscing the past how good his relationship was with Donald Trump, Imran Khan tells the former US President gave him protocol that no Pakistani prime minister ever received. Trump gave him respect, while Joe Biden never called. The anger is still there. So are the U-turns. Why else are we finding out that PTI has hired a lobbying firm in Washington with a goal for good relations with the US? Now what if Biden didn’t call? All is still not lost for Khan. Time to take out a new narrative from the magic hat. No, this drama ain’t ending any time soon.

The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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