FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 45

Battle lines drawn

The confrontation between the coalition government and former Prime Minister Imran Khan has entered the final stage. He threatens to hold a “long march” on Islamabad to pave the way for early elections, while the government plans to crush his movement at any cost. The situation could lead to bloodshed if both sides fail to exercise restraint.

All coalition parties in the government believe that it would be disastrous for them if they submit to Imran Khan’s demand and announce early elections, because they would have to start their campaign from a position of weakness. They are also sure that they would be wiped out if polls are held after a few months. The government has taken some measures, which it believes were necessary to save the country from economic default, but it has created an unprecedented price hike in the country. Power bills have almost tripled in the last two months. Prices of flour and other food items have also skyrocketed. It has badly hit the popularity of the coalition parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which leads the government. In this situation, the PML-N and its allies have decided to resist and crush any movement for early elections. They can go to any extent for it.

The coalition government also believes that the situation will be far better for it if elections are delayed and held by the end of next year, as scheduled. It is optimistic that rates of commodities will continue to fall in the global market and it would be better placed to lower prices of food, electricity and fuel in Pakistan after a few months. However, recent floods have compounded its problems and it would be difficult for it to even divert sufficient funds for flood victims.

On the other hand, former Prime Minister Imran Khan believes he will clean sweep if elections are held after a few months. He threatens to bring a “long march” to Islamabad and force the government to announce early polls. He has announced comprehensive reforms in every field, unlike his previous government, which was not much different from all past governments in Pakistan.

However, there are rumours that work has already started to implement some plans in Pakistan. According to the first plan, the PPP will retain its strong hold, Sindh, after the next election. The PTI is slated to rule Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while a coalition government will run Balochistan, as has happened in the past. On the other hand, Punjab will be handed over to the PML-N.

According to analysts, another plan is to improve the image and popularity of the PPP and its leaders, especially Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. For it, Imran Khan will be disqualified for life or at least five years. Elections will be delayed as long as possible and a strong media campaign would be launched to portray Bilawal Zardari as the only “national leader” in the country. Defections will be ensured in the PTI and the PML-N and turncoats would be forced to join the PPP. Bilawal Zardari has recently returned from a world tour, which aimed to build his confidence and provide international exposure to him. It also aimed to portray him as Pakistan’s upcoming leader. Under this plan, the role of the PML-N will also be curtailed in future politics of Pakistan.

It is said serious efforts are underway to disqualify Imran Khan and force defections in his party. He himself has expressed his fear that the government is desperately working on a “minus one formula.” He also faces a number of cases. He does not face an immediate threat in any case, but he has opened too many fronts which may hurt him in the long run. However, his ouster from national politics will discredit the next election and democratic process in the country.

Imran Khan also claims that work has started on a plan to topple his party’s government in Punjab and his legislators are being threatened or bribed to leave the party. It is said that it is a part of the government’s strategy to remove the PTI government in Punjab ahead of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country, as he believes he needs his government in the province to revive his politics. However, Imran Khan’s popularity has reached heights which no politician can match. Recent by-polls in Punjab proved it. The government failed to prevent the PTI’s landslide victory despite using state machinery and other resources.

As Imran Khan himself fears for his disqualification, it is not without a reason. It is said that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informed his close aides that Imran Khan would no longer be a threat to him and his party in the next election. A number of disqualification references have also been lodged against Imran Khan in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and courts, however, the Supreme Court will ultimately decide them and it could take months.

According to some analysts, some powers in Pakistan have already achieved their objective of elimination of the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif and JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. They believe conditions have been shaped in such a way that the PTI would eliminate them in their strongholds.

There is also another plan in place, if Imran Khan overthrows the government through his protest movement. In this case, he will dictate most terms.