Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had to deal with a broken economy when he came to power in 2018 but his troubles were later magnified by his charisma, a rise in popularity, that left a lot of personal development gaps in his strategy. He was aggressive as a fast bowler, a “crusher” as captain who gave no quarter and knew no “middle ground”, whereas politics thrives on compromise and accommodation.
Almost two years later, he has his opposition on the run, but his party has split under pressure from natural calamities such as COVID-19 and locusts. He damaged the system with the use of intemperate language which in turn ruined the image of his partymen who lacked character when it came to bearing up under pressure. Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, who was booted out of his first post as information minister, has chosen to come on TV and tell Pakistanis about the internal collapse of the party.
Chaudhry stated that the PM had appointed as ministers “weak persons who required dictation for every matter, which damaged PM Imran Khan’s vision”. Khan had put together governments in only two provinces — Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — but in Punjab he needed allies whom he ended up treating not too well. His party led the opposition in Sindh but his advice of aggressive discourse has discredited his badmouthing lieutenants there too.
Khan’s advantage was that his two opponent parties, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), were on the run from the army and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which hunts down his opponents. So crippled is his opposition by the NAB that Pakistan will not be able to find his replacement for a long time. After lambasting his already comatose opposition, Khan has also managed to booby-trap his own party while brandishing his cheap-shot worry-beads in public.
His over 50-strong cabinet is riven with underground rivalries among ministers who earlier favoured the party with big financial handouts, some of them advisers because they didn’t come through elections and are now resented by partymen for their brazen incompetence. The infighting trio that has most come to the notice of the man on the street is: Ex-general secretary of PTI Jahangir Tareen, Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Khan needed coalition partners in three provinces: Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan while counting on their votes in the National Assembly. Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ), Balochistan National Party (BNP) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) — all of them are unhappy with him in various degrees for not carrying out the concessions he had agreed to and are threatening to jump ship. More and more politicians from within the party are appearing on TV and criticising him for allowing his ministers to spoil their standing in their constituencies.
Khan’s charisma is folding up. His defiance of the opposition — he rarely attends the parliamentary sessions and doesn’t talk to the opposition leaders — is no longer admired by the jobless common man now under attack from hunger and COVID-19. His foreign policy of defiance has sagged after he dumped the Gulf Arabs under the influence of Turkey’s Erdogan and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammad; and India didn’t make peace with him under PM Narendra Modi.
He is called “selected” instead of “elected” by an opposition that resents the way his otherwise nonfunctional ministers keep subjecting them to abusive language. The Pakistan army, that he leans on, is feeling the pressure from Afghanistan where it plays its cards on the basis of the repeatedly unreliable Afghan Taliban and their internationally abhorred partners. On the other hand, India has much better relations with Pakistan’s neighbours — Iran, the Gulf and Central Asia — than Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Khan is bound to react wrongly to the recent China-India scrap and rile the Indians more against his government, not realising that the scuffle in Ladakh may soon be tactfully resolved by the two neighbours involved in big-time bilateral trade.
This article first appeared in the print edition on June 27 under the title “No middle ground.” The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.
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