End of the road for Imran Khan?

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Is there change in the air of Pakistan? Has Imran Khan Niazi reached the end of the road? This is a question that must be haunting Niazi himself at a time when even a fringe player such as Fazlur Rehman, the Islamic cleric and head of JUIF, can mobilise thousands of people for his “Azaadi march” and reach Islamabad with the demand that Niazi must give up his chair and fresh elections must be held. The obvious question is: what sort of a role the Pakistan military is playing in this. It is well known that nothing happens in that country without the approval of the military and the real power rests with Rawalpindi GHQ and not with Islamabad, from where Imran Khan Niazi apparently “governs” Pakistan. In fact it was Rawalpindi GHQ that selected Niazi as Prime Minister in 2018 in an election that it rigged for him. If a free and fair election was conducted, most likely Nawaz Sharif would have emerged victorious, but then he was not wanted by the military primarily for his willingness to “make peace” with India. It is after all the bogey of “India the enemy” that keeps the business of Pakistan military running.

In Imran Khan Niazi the military saw a western educated man and a former sports icon who could charm the West and its various institutions into loosening the purse strings for a cash-starved Pakistan, apart from ensuring the cornering of India on various issues, particularly Kashmir. But that strategy failed. In fact, in spite of Niazi’s best efforts, even the tweaking of Article 370 by India, and thus changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir, did not go beyond riling the western media and some lawmakers with Pakistani voters in their respective constituencies. Given Pakistan’s own history of supporting terrorism, Niazi’s rants did not cut any ice with international policymakers. In fact, a motor-mouth Niazi, in his attempt to make himself appear transparent to western audiences went around saying that 30,000-40,000 terrorists operated in Pakistan and that the Pakistan army had trained the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda.

It will not be a surprise if the generals make a “scapegoat” out of Imran Khan and sacrifice him. A military coup is not an option, considering the sanctions Pakistan will invite from the United States in the case of such an eventuality, apart from disapprobation from different world bodies. In this context, the question that should be uppermost on Pakistani minds should be about who the likely is, and in this case, it is no longer about “if”, but about “when”. Will it be Bilawal Zardari, who has thrown his weight behind the Maulana’s march? Or will it be someone from the Sharif family, especially since their hold on Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, is more or less intact and selecting someone from the Sharif family may help ameliorate the anger in that province over Nawaz Sharif’s incarceration? Whatever be the case, it is increasingly appearing that Imarn Khan Niazi will have to abdicate his chair sooner or later.

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