Pakistani politics is changing very fast but very few can predict who will be the next Prime Minister when elections are held a few weeks from now. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan is confident that he is the one. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has given him the title of “ladla” (favorite), and we all know who he is alluding to. Many MPs of Nawaz’s PML-N party recently changed their loyalities – abandoning their former boss and joining ‘Ladla’s’ party. Nawaz Sharif has openly accused Imran Khan of being a pet of the Army and judiciary.
There is no doubt that Ladla is, indeed, speaking like a Prime Minister, but one of his interviews has raised several eyebrows, including in the Army. Unfortunately or fortunately, I am the one who did that interview with Imran Khan for Geo TV last week.
I asked Imran a very simple question : “Why is Nawaz Sharif using the word ‘Ladla’ for you?” My question angered him. He said, “I am not the ‘Ladla’, it was actually Nawaz Sharif who was always a ‘Ladla’ of the Army and judiciary”. By now Imran Khan was quite angry. Nawaz Sharif rigged elections, with the help of the Army, in 1990, 1997 and in 2013, he added.
I was shocked. My TV channel was restored in Pakistan’s many cantonment areas only a few days ago. This new allegation against the Army from Ladla was unexpected.
Fact of the matter is, Imran Khan has been on a boycott of Geo TV for a year and this was his first interview in a long time. I cautioned him and double checked. “Are you talking about the role of Army in 2013 elections as well?” Imran Khan again said yes. Then he took the name of Brigadier Muzaffar Ali Ranjha, who was head of Military Intelligence in Punjab during the 2013 elections. Ranjha was given a prize post by the PML-N government after his retirement from the Army — appointed head of the Anti-Corruption Agency in Punjab by then chief minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Imran claimed that Ranjha had rigged the election for Nawaz Sharif in 2013. I cautioned him again, and asked, “Are you talking about some individuals or the whole institution?” Imran said he was fully aware what he was saying. But he soon started praising current Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who became COAS in 2016.
Then I asked him a question about the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement (PTM), largely active in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province ruled by Imran Khan’s PTI since 2013. Remember that many people accuse Imran Khan of having been helped by the Army to win the province in 2013. But the PTM has been raising its voice against the Army in Pashtun tribal areas and accusing it of enforced disappearances of several locals. Its young leader Manzoor Pashteen, while facing allegations of treason from some patriots, is said to be in contact with Army officials as well.
I was expecting that Imran would also blast the PTM, but he took a sympathetic view. In fact, he offered his services to arrange a dialogue between PTM and Army chief. Dialogue is the only way forward, he said, adding that the PTM could not achieve its goal by maligning the Army. I immediately pointed out that he had maligned the Army just a few moments ago by claiming that it had rigged the elections in 2013. He changed the subject quickly.
This interview has now become a headline in the Pakistani media. So much so that Imran Khan’s several rivals have begun to smile at his public political blunder.
A few days ago Imran was making boastful claims that Nawaz Sharif would soon go to jail. But now Nawaz Sharif is loudly saying that he will take action against Imran Khan for his statements. In a public meeting in Jhelum recently, Nawaz Sharif said that Imran Khan is like Porus ka haathi (the elephant of Raja Porus). Now Jhelum is where Porus fought and lost against Alexander the Great. It is said that there were 200 elephants in his army, but the elephants trampled his own soldiers which is how Alexander won the battle.
Now Nawaz Sharif is hardly Alexander the Great but he seems sure that Imran Khan is like Porus’ elephant who ran over his own Army.
After Imran Khan’s many stunning accusations, people were expecting that the Pakistan Army would come up with some clarifications, but there has been total silence. Retired Brigadier Ranjha has challenged Imran to show any evidence of rigging in the 2013 election. Some of Imran’s close aides have told me privately that his interview was very damaging as several Army officials had expressed their displeasure about it.
Many “electables” were joining Imran Khan under the impression that he is the “Ladla” of the Army. But after his statements against the Army, these “electables” are running away; it may even become difficult for him to get a simple majority in the National Assembly. Certainly he has destroyed the impression that he is a ‘Ladla’ of the military establishment.
A number of “electables,” including former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have decided to contest the election as independents. After the 2013 elections, 25 of the 30 independents who were elected were asked by the Army to join Nawaz Sharif because Shehbaz Sharif had promised then Army Chief General Kayani an extension. But Nawaz Sharif never fulfilled that promise.
These 25 people will again contest this time as independents and in the case of a hung parliament will play an important role. Any of the three main party leaders, whether Imran Khan or Asif Zardari or Shehbaz Sharif, will be dependent upon them.
As for Nawaz Sharif, it is likely that the Accountability Court will convict him soon. Neither the Army nor the judiciary are particularly bothered about his or his party’s popularity and are determined to hold the elections on time. Nawaz himself knows that his time to return to jail is near – he has been saying this in public meetings – although he remains hopeful that if elections are held on time and his party gets a two-thirds majority, then it will repeal Section 61(1)F in the Constitution that disbarred him in the first place (by declaring him neither “sadiq” nor “amen” because of his alleged non-declaration of properties abroad) from holding the post of prime minister.
I fear that Pakistan is in for considerable instability. It is good that the political survival of both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan depends on elections – whether or not they are otherwise dependent upon the Army. But I believe that even if Imran becomes Prime Minister, he will not only have to depend on “independents”, but that he will meet the same fate as Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz was disqualified for his alleged “dishonesty,” but I know that Imran’s rivals are already preparing to go to court if he becomes PM because of his “misdeclarations” about the Army.
Today Nawaz Sharif is speaking against 62(1)F, tomorrow Imran may become its victim. Let’s be clear, 62(1)F is not a bouncer. It was inserted into the Constitution by late Gen Zia-ul Haq as a yorker against politicians. Many politicians, including Nawaz Sharif, were clean bowled on this yorker. Imran Khan has been a good bowler but not a perfect batsman. He will face this yorker again and again. History may be repeated and another Ladla will lose his middle stump.