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The Pakistan Army’s pilot project of a hybrid regime has failed. Prime Minister Imran Khan is fighting for survival. A grand alliance of the Opposition parties the Pakistani version of mahagathbandhan seen in Indian politics has moved a no-trust motion against the Imran Khan government, while his allies have switched sides.
Imran Khan faces the prospect of becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to lose majority in a no-trust vote. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), needs the support of at least 172 members in the National Assembly the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament, Majlis-e-Shura.
The PTI has 155 members, while the Opposition alliance has claimed the support of more than 175. Reports from Pakistan’s press suggest that 10-15 Members of National Assembly (MNAs) belonging to the PTI may abstain during voting on the no-trust motion or vote against the Imran Khan government.
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Two of Imran Khan’s main allies the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) with 11 MNAs have joined the Opposition bloc for voting on the no-trust motion. Another major ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, may switch sides with four MNAs.
The Opposition alliance has seen for the first time the coming together of arch-rivals, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party. They are leading an alliance of about 10 parties in the National Assembly.
The no-trust motion would be put to vote by April 4. Imran Khan faces the risk of being voted out. He can resign and let an Opposition leader PML-N’s Shahbaz Sharif is speculated to be the prime ministerial candidate succeed him till the general elections in 2023.
Another option before Imran Khan is to resign and call for a mid-term parliamentary election. Imran Khan is in a tight spot, and his multiple meetings with General Bajwa on Wednesday indicate that he is exploring every avenue to stay in power in Pakistan.
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But Pakistan’s politics is too complex. Several other players are playing their part in the current crisis.
Shahbaz Sharif is the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was evicted from power in 2018 following his conviction in a corruption case. Shahbaz A veteran in Pakistan politics, having served as the Punjab CM thrice, Sharif is currently the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly. He has managed to stitch an alliance with rival PPP, which had a bitter equation with the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif.
Bilawal Bhutto is the son of former Prime Minister late Benazir Bhutto and former President Asif Ali Zardari. Bilawal Bhutto has announced that Shahbaz Sharif will be the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate after Imran Khan is ousted through the no-trust motion. The PPP under him slipped to the third position in the National Assembly in the 2018 election as Imran Khan’s PTI emerged as the largest party.
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PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz is the daughter of Nawaz Sharif and has emerged as his political heir following his conviction and exile-for-medical treatment. She has been campaigning against the Imran Khan government for several months in Pakistan. Some commentators have described Maryam Nawaz as the new political heartthrob of Pakistan. Her campaign is said to have contributed to the loss of popularity of Imran Khan.
Fazlur Rehman is a Deobandi cleric and veteran politician in Pakistan who was the petroleum minister in the Benazir Bhutto government in the 1990s. He has emerged as one of the reasons for the strained relationship between Imran Khan and General Bajwa.
Imran Khan claimed that General Bajwa asked him not to address Fazlur Rehman the prime minister’s nemesis since 2019 when he laid a siege of Islamabad as “Diesel”.
“Diesel” became Fazlur Rehman’s nickname over allegations that he made a fortune allowing illegal sale of diesel in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the petroleum minister. Pakistan leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif in 1996 called him “Maulana Diesel” in the National Assembly in 1996 while asking a question.
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Imran Khan has continued to call him “Diesel” in his public speeches. Rehman, a strong votary of imposing Sharia in Pakistan and a supporter of the Taliban, has campaigned against him in the past three years after losing all three seats he contested in 2018 parliamentary polls.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), not directly affiliated with the Taliban ruling Afghanistan, is a Pashtunist Islamist terror group aiming to bring Pakistan under Taliban rule.
The TTP also called the Pakistan Taliban has announced to resume attacks on the Pakistan Army’s camps during Ramzan that begins Sunday or Monday. A suicide attack was carried out on Wednesday.
Imran Khan had reached an agreement for a ceasefire with the TTP in November last year. It last just one month, the TTP began targeting the Pakistan Army. It was around the same time, differences between Imran Khan and the Pakistan Army leaders became public knowledge. It is, however, not clear if these two developments are related.
A political crisis for a civilian government has been the norm in Pakistan. Until late 2021, the Imran Khan government appeared to be a success as what is often referred to as the hybrid model of government understood as the pilot project of the Pakistan Army. However, the relationship between the Pakistan Army and Imran Khan turned hostile.
It is said that the Pakistan Army faced a crisis of credibility in the public imagination for failing to get the Imran Khan government to tackle the economic woes effectively. Imran Khan and Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa have been fighting in public.
It began with the question of the appointment of the Pakistan Army’s spy agency, Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) chief in October-November last year.
Imran Khan favoured extension to incumbent Lt General Faiz Hameed who had earned the ire of General Bajwa with his public appearance in Kabul during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. General Bajwa wanted a change, and Imran Khan lost the battle.
Then came an allegation from Imran Khan’s camp that the army was involved in a deal with Shabaz Sharif to protect four persons himself, his son Hamza Shahbaz, Nawaz Sharif (to end his political exile) and Maryam Nawaz at the cost of the Imran Khan government.
The Pakistan Army vehemently rejected the charge in early January, saying, “Whoever speaks about the deal should be asked for clarificationWho is negotiating with Nawaz Sharif? What are the motives behind the deal with Nawaz Sharif? What is the evidence?”
Imran Khan’s troubles multiplied after that.
The rivals formed a joint opposition front to take on Imran Khan, who expected help from the army, which in turn declared itself to be “neutral” in the political crisis. This drew a sharp attack from Imran Khan who said, “Humans take sides. Only animals remain neutral.”
As the relationship deteriorated, General Bajwa in mid-March told the Lahore University students, “If you think I call the shots in this country then you have no idea who Imran Khan is.”
The students had asked if the army was running the country.
Answering another question about his relationship with Imran Khan, General Bajwa said, “No, I am not his friend. He is my boss.”
‘Boss’ Imran Khan held three meetings with ‘subordinate’ General Bajwa in 24 hours ahead of the National Assembly debate on the no-trust motion beginning Thursday. Whether Imran Khan survives the no-trust vote depends a lot on the outcome of his meetings with General Bajwa, whose extended tenure ends in November, and the Pakistan prime minister has to decide his successor before that.
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