Pakistan’s political mess is getting messier and messier with each passing day. Ever since Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted, the country has known no peace and quiet. On one side is the incompetent PDM government which is not sure of its footing, while on the other, the PTI is on the offensive, constantly attacking the legitimacy of the incumbents. This has created a general sense of alarm and uncertainty in the country.
Imran Khan, convinced that he has been wrongly ousted from power, is leading a strong political campaign challenging the government to contest an election with him. Enjoying mass support, he is holding rallies across the country, mobilizing public opinion against what he calls a corrupt and illegitimate Sharif government.
The present PDM government, composed of 13 different parties each with their own agenda, is unable to deliver – something which has made them extremely unpopular. The opposition PDM alliance had only one aim and that was to oust Imran Khan who was pursuing corruption cases against them. The PDM had formulated no program of action to deal with the multifarious social and economic problems of the country. The only thing they have accomplished so far is to quash corruption cases against them and render the National Accountability Bureau a toothless body.
The economy is in a serious crisis. Prices have gone through the roof. The costs of petrol and electricity have become unaffordable for the people. Everyday taxes are raised. Inflation, which previously hovered around 10-12 percent, has hit 42 percent. In the midst of swirling political instability, the government is barely surviving. It is almost in a state of paralysis. Resultantly, economic problems are multiplying.
The way Imran Khan was ousted left many questions unanswered. That is why people tend to accept Imran Khan’s conspiracy theory that it is an imported government foisted on Pakistan at the behest of foreign powers. The people have also not failed to take note of the fact that as compared to relative political and economic stability under Imran Khan, the country now faces an unmitigated economic disaster.
Pakistan’s political crisis is best illustrated by the fact that the main component of the PDM government – PML-N – is in power only at the Centre, while the PTI controls Punjab and KP. The PPP, another major component of the PDM, is in power only in Sindh. Balochistan is ruled by a coalition of disparate parties with shifting loyalties.
The latest twist in the game is the rising confrontation between Punjab, controlled by the PTI, and the Centre, ruled by the PDM. Afraid of Imran Khan’s rising popular appeal, the central government is cracking down on the media and independent journalists who refuse to kowtow to the government’s diktat. In the latest development the PDM government has arrested Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff of Imran Khan, who has been allegedly severely tortured by the police.
In retaliation, the Punjab government is cracking down on PML-N stalwarts who were involved in planning attacks on PTI leaders and activists the night before the PTI’s scheduled long march to Islamabad. Private houses were raided and the police lathi-charged and used tear gas shells against peaceful PTI protesters. PTI supporters are still smarting from those violent attacks and are out to punish the PML-N bigwigs who authorized the attacks on May 25.
An important factor in the whole episode is that there is a reversal of position with regard to the political parties’ relationship with the establishment. Earlier, PDM leaders clamored for Imran Khan’s exit because according to them he was not elected but “selected” by the military. The PDM launched its frontal attack on the PTI government in Feb-March this year, apparently on the pretext of governance and economic failures under Imran Khan. But the real reason was that Imran Khan had lost the support of Pakistan’s military, which helped him rise to power.
What will happen next? The country is in a state of turmoil. A ready answer to the current crisis and debilitating political instability is to hold elections for which Imran Khan has given repeated calls. But the government as well as the powers that be are reluctant because they fear a clean sweep by the PTI.
But in the opinion of all political analysts, elections are the only way out of the current political imbroglio. The economy is sinking all the time and the general public is despondent and panicky. In its 70 years’ history Pakistan has not faced such a national emergency as it is facing now.