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The writing is on the wall: Pakistan’s Imran Khan govt is on the edge of collapse

The army has always wanted an increased role in managing politics in Pakistan. Imran Khan’s ministers are giving it just that.

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Pakistan’s government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be on the edge of collapse. Internal divisions in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, have become so intense that it is no longer possible to keep them under wraps. Senior government ministers are openly accusing their cabinet colleagues of backstabbing, conspiracy and breach of trust. Within the government, there are multiple fault lines, which are likely to increase by the day. This leaves the PTI government structurally vulnerable to being pushed around by the more professional and organised institution – the Pakistan Army, which has become significantly more assertive.

According to media reports, at a crucial cabinet meeting recently, PM Imran Khan had to intervene  to stop ministers from hurling allegations against one another. The immediate reason for the cabinet meeting, in which Khan advised his ministers not to discuss the party’s internal issues in open forums, was an explosive interview given by Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry.  

Fawad, in his interview to Voice of America (VOA), had discussed internal differences within the PTI and accused senior leaders of conspiring to remove each other; and that senior leader Jahangir Tareen hatched plans to get federal minister Asad Umar removed from the cabinet while the latter was behind the removal of Tareen from the key position of general secretary of the party, also known as the real powerhouse of the PTI.

Underlining the Pakistani people’s high “expectation from PTI and Imran Khan”, Fawad said the national government had failed miserably to make the system more professional and autonomous through systematic reforms. He argued that “the public had not elected us or the prime minister to fix nuts and bolts but to reform the system”.

Fawad was echoing the disappointment felt by most Pakistanis, who, having voted Khan’s party into power, have been holding their breath, in desperate anticipation that the transformative moment in their nation’s destiny would come soon. According to a survey, “The percentage of Pakistanis who believe that the current PTI government’s performance up to this point in its tenure is worse than that of the previous government has increased from 35 per cent in December 2018 to 59 per cent in February 2020.”

This public airing of differences by those in the government has its reputational dimension; the consequences of irreconcilable internal rift within the PTI are far more perilous because the stakes are higher in a government dependent on support from smaller coalition partners. With PM Imran Khan struggling to bring a semblance of unity among his party colleagues, it is only a matter of time before his government is brought down under the unbearable weight of the army’s relentless psychological warfare as well as its own inherent contradictions.

Also read: Cynthia Ritchie, American writer in Pakistan who accused PPP leaders of rape, assault

Deserting allies

The PTI government has also been highly inept in dealing with the Covid-19 health emergency. This has resulted in a steep decline in public trust in the government’s capacity to rule effectively. Things have come to such a pass that Imran Khan’s allies in the government are deserting him, with many joining the opposition camp.

Accusing the PTI of not keeping its promises, the chief of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-M), Sardar Akhtar Mengal, has left the government. His party has four seats in the National Assembly. Expressing his annoyance over insufficient funds for development projects in Balochistan, Mengal regretted the diminishing role of the National Assembly in policy-making, and said, “The parliament has become the speakers’ corner in Hyde Park (in London) where the members vent their frustration through their speeches but nobody is listening to them seriously.” Mengal has since met with the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and is believed to be planning to topple the Imran Khan government.

Now, other coalition partners such as Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), on whose support the government depends for its majority in the National Assembly, are likely to step up their bargaining power vis-à-vis the PTI. The government will be under additional pressure to keep these small allies happy at all costs. As argued by a Pakistani analyst: “Do not be surprised if you see the allies becoming a bit more vocal in their grievances, a bit more aggressive in their dealings and a bit more demanding in their requirements. They may do all this because they can see the larger political canvas groaning under the weight of PTI government’s problems.”

The lack of internal cohesion and trust within the PTI has created deep fractures in the government’s ability to manage, as reflected in the marginalisation of trusted advisers of PM Khan. Most important among them is Tareen, who was a political heavyweight deciding tickets for the 2018 parliamentary election. His removal has left Imran Khan without someone who can manage the complex game of political alliances in a fragile government.

Besides domestic governance problems, the undeniable realities of corruption, cover-ups, abuse of power, and all the macroeconomic indicators trending downwards, Pakistan currently faces multiple challenges on security and foreign policy fronts such as Afghan peace process, military tensions with India, and American pressure to shift the focus away from China.

Also read: Why the 18th Amendment has become a cause for irritation for the Pakistani Army

Giving more power to military 

Since there is a clear division of labour between the government and the army, the latter is the de-facto decision-maker on security and foreign policy issues. But the PTI government’s failings on domestic governance, including on Covid-19, have led to many key civilian positions being infested with people from military backgrounds.

Previous civilian governments in Pakistan often tried to resist the army’s dominance in domestic policy-making, but the PTI government has made no such attempt. Consequently, military interference or hold over routine aspects of governance such as airlines, finance, railways, and media has gradually increased.

For instance, the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is headed by Air Marshal Arshad Malik, who was appointed as CEO in October 2018. Malik’s management of the PIA has recently come under scrutiny following a fatal plane crash in Karachi in May. Similarly, Lt Gen. Asim Bajwa, a former Pakistani military spokesman, was appointed in April as the new special communication adviser to the PM. He is also heading the Chinese-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Pakistan, under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These appointments are in sync with the broader trajectory of the collapse of institutional autonomy in the civilian sphere of governance under the PTI government.

Also read: Army tightens grip on Pakistan again as Imran Khan’s popularity wanes

Don’t forget the past

There is increasing speculation of Pakistan’s military establishment being extremely unhappy with the manner in which the national government is being run. The army has always desired an increased role in managing politics in Pakistan, but it doesn’t mean that a civilian government’s inefficiency, incompetence and venality should be used as an excuse to garner more power for itself. That is a logically absurd and tactically irresponsible proposition.

While the present seems bleak, the future does not augur well for change either. It is true that barring a few exceptions, political leaders in Pakistan often turn to the army, behind the curtain, to resolve their differences rather than work things out through the democratic process of dialogue.

But it is equally true that the rule of law cannot effectively survive without civilian supremacy. And unfortunately, Pakistan has already paid a huge price for extra-constitutional interventions by the army. History’s lessons must not be forgotten by generals in Rawalpindi.

Vinay Kaura is assistant professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jaipur. Views are personal.

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  1. INSHAALLAH the blessing of ALLAH is always with imran Khan . And in my Life this is the one persone i pray for him to become presidente of Pakistan everytime . He is the voice of Justice.

  2. Bulshit fake news or analysis,this only can be dream for Pakistan enemy..inshaAllah Imran government will complete his tenure..inshaAllah inshaAllah


  4. Pakistan was nothing before 1948 where from came this strange name? And who brought this name with him from Bombay Jinnah he gone now
    to hell now let Pakistan also go to hell with him inshallah no body will help you the British made for you a country
    you stupid Punjabi Monkeys which you were not expected to be owners of the country now the British will even not fuck you USA was helping you by mistakes no they noticed you are terrorists Saudi was testing you in Yemen war you have no friends China you are friend they sales you are yang girls to China open Markets and you are criminal army & ISI Looting and killing the people inshallah God will revenge you .

  5. I am not surprised if army takes over the power. Although at present Imraan can’t even sneeze without permission from army first.

  6. Prejudiced article.
    Pakistan is going up under Prim ministers Imran Khan.And it will keep going up.Such ill minded authors can only dream bad .

  7. If you apparently dislike Pakistan.. Why do you create news about it? Bloody hypocrites save your India first from the hands of butchers who are running it.

  8. Keep dreaming and Don’t worry Imran Khan government will complete this 5 year and In Sha Allah will be elected for another 5 years.

  9. Which wall has it been written on, must be the one in India. Eat your heart out our PM IMRAN KHAN is not going anywhere, na nana na na. He is the best thing happened for Pakistan after our founder Mr Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. I will say keep dreaming, By the way we don’t mind Our army to take over , if for a second we accept your baseless claim. At least it will be our own army. Your country has been taken over by some other army. Tell us who do you want in Pakistan as a ruling party I’m sure you will say corrupt Nawaz cos he was the biggest traitor and the puppet of India and damaged our country, but not any more.
    I will suggest you do not interfere in the affairs of other countries, and let us worry about it. You have much more serious issues in your so called democratic country.
    By the way what are your charges for posting false propagandas.
    Army and our beloved PM Imran Khan alway we’re and still are on the same page.

  10. A post full of lies.It shows your desperate and miserable mind. Keep dreaming and remain poisoning your people mind. PTI Government is fully stable and will complete his five years tenure. You should focus on your own cruel Modi’s Government. Which i hope show you days that u have not imagined even in dreams.

    • nice to see that you have lots of audience from pakistan. as for India do we really need to care? the army is in control of pakistan, it may be direct like past generals or indirect like imran. doesnt make any difference. we should hope imran khan stays the PM for another 10 years going by how well pakistan is doing under him.

  11. This writer don’t have any article about Indian economy, but he has too much sympathy and pain about Pakistan.

  12. Wow.. I seriously expected a bit more in journalistic quality from The Print. It seems pipe dreamers have found their way in here as well. Imran Khan’s government will complete it’s tenure and is quite well placed to be re-elected again. Ask Pakistanis what the mood here is. If you ask yourselves, it will always come back negative because it’s an inbred quality of Indians 👍🤭

  13. A lot of space has been wasted on giving reasons for likely exit of Imran Khan government. However, if Pak Army is anyway finally going to control the levers of any government in power there, it does not matter who comes and who goes. In particular, what impact on does it have on India? This is more relevant to us rather than the details given in the article.

  14. Baseless bullshit by some indian writer as they have nothing to do no more shareef who supports india to destroy Pakistan and till today indian politicians are crying

    Mind with your own business and take care of your internal problems.

  15. Why is this indian allowed to talk about a nation which they inherently dislike? Obviously these hindu extremists will go to any length to malign good name of Pakistan. This writer is certainly not qualified to air his views on my country’s politics or otherwise. He should be worried about his own country and its leader being annihilated by Chinese forces. Be damned and do something for your country rather than mouthing off where your nonsense does not belong. You need to start defending your own country from bankruptcy before you knock on our door. Get a life or drink mooter which may get your senses back on line.

  16. It seems an Indian propaganda against Pakistan to weakened Imran Khan’s government.

  17. I think today’s India is not in a much better position with a nationalist dictatorship ignoring minorities. Millions of poor and alphabetic people are easy to manipulate, so India should better do something about it and not show the finger in Pakistan s direction in their newspapers. I think India has work to do enough in their own country

  18. Lets on focus on our grt country,China -Ladakh stand off,Economy,& Covid..why do we need to bother abt Pakistan & Imran’s survival

  19. It is an endless game in Pakistan, so the present situation is not surprising. They lack modern beliefs and are averse to change with time, so whether it is governed by any civilian authority or its Army, it is unlikely to change for better even in the distant future.

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