Three-year conviction and subsequent arrest of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan in Toshakhana case may be a pointer towards a well-planned strategy of prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif and his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif to either keep Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief in Jail or ensure the disqualification to keep him out of electoral arena. Sharif brothers have achieved success on both fronts.
Imran Is Now Out Of Electoral Fray
Experts say that Islamabad court has found Imran guilty of allegations of concealing the facts and selling of state gifts received during his premiership from 2018 to 2022 which were worth $635,000 which said that his guilt of dishonesty has been established beyond doubt.
Second, Pakistan election commission had disqualified Imran for contesting election for 5 years on Oct 21,2022 which preceded a complaint of illegally selling the state gifts by the coalition government headed by Shebaz Sharif. In this scenario, Khan’s hopes of staging a comeback have been dashed to the ground and his party Tehreek-e-Insaaf has been rendered as leaderless which will give a big advantage to the ruling dispensation in Pakistan.
Pm Is Poised To Dissolve The Parliament Tomorrow
Incidentally, PM Sharif has been placed in an advantageous position and if his announcement to dissolve the parliament on Aug 9 becomes reality then it may pave the way for holding of the general elections in Nov this year? The term of two provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will expire on August 12 hence Sharif government will have to dissolve the same on or before this date to hold elections. Supreme Court had ruled on March 1,2023 to hold polls in these provincial assemblies within 90 days but the center had opted to ignore the directive which had been responsible for the direct confrontation with the Apex court.
The national assembly term is expiring on Aug 12 which will be preceded by the appointment of caretaker government by President Arif Alvi on the basis of the recommendations of the present coalition government headed by Sharif who has discussed the issue with partners. However legal experts in Islamabad predict that it is mandatory to undertake delimitation exercises and revision of the rolls which may take four to five months thereby pushing the national assembly polls to March/April,2024.
Khan’s Appeal For Peace To His Supporters
Imran has made passionate appeals to his supporters unlike May 9 when he had actively incited them to indulge in violence and they had even attacked military headquarters which had turned army generals against him. Khan said “I only have one request, one appeal for you. You must not sit quietly inside your homes. The struggle I am doing is not for my own self, it’s for my nation, for you. For the future of your children. If you don’t stand up for your rights, you will live the lives of slaves and slaves don’t have a life.” Ex PM made a reference in his Twitter post about “London Plan’ which implies an allegation of conspiracy being hatched by present army chief general Asim Munir and 3-time PM Nawaz Sharif who is in self-exile in London since 2019 following his conviction in a corruption case by supreme court.
Army And Sharif Government Working In Tandem To Keep Imran Out
As per established norm and decades old practice of dominance of army in Pakistan’s domestic affairs, PM, Shahbaz will be depending upon army chief ,Asim Munir to win the parliamentary polls which was witnessed during former military chief, general Qamar Bajwa who was instrumental in installing his favorite Imran Khan as 22nd prime minister in 2018 but fell apart later which had been responsible for the downfall of Khan.
Second, now battle lines have been drawn and the script is clear to keep Imran Khan out of power play and legal weapon is available with Sharif to achieve his goal. He may be indicted in the May 9 attack by his supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf on army headquarters which has been described as Black Day in the history of the powerful military. Imran has been disqualified on the basis of by the election commission which played a major role in taking up the issue in the court which has given its verdict.
Third, general Munir is feeling offended and downgraded as no politician had dared to attack the army since the inception of Pakistan as it always ruled the roost. The Army needs yet another ‘Puppet’ government to Re-establish its supremacy and popularity of Imran would have been dangerous especially if he is allowed to carve out the space at the top of political dispensation in the country.
Fourth, present PM’s elder brother and three-time PM, Nawaz Sharif, leader of Muslim league(N) is certain to return from London to be part of future political game in Pakistan following the adoption of a bill in parliament which has limited the disqualification period of any parliamentarian from life time ban to 5 years. Nawaz was convicted by the Supreme court in a corruption case for five years in 2017 hence opted for self-exile in London but now his brother has declared that the three-time PM will be heading the government if elections are won by ruling dispensation in Pakistan.
Fifth, Sharif brothers are likely to play the ‘Anti India’ card against Imran Khan’s party which has got potential to damage the prospects of Khan’s party. PM Sharif has tried to project Imran’s action of May 9 as a planned conspiracy to please India.
Sixth, general elections may end the current political instability and help in the survival of democracy. The Sharif government has miserably failed to protect people who are reeling under unprecedented price rise, unemployment, debt liabilities, etc. hence the new government may take some steps to save them.
Finally, one of the foremost reasons pertains to the security threat in Pakistan from within which has threatened lives of common people through successive governments who are responsible for this menace.
United States Favours Democratic Government
America’s latent role in the approval of IMF loan to Pakistan proves that it wants this country to survive and checkmate China to some extent hence elections will be welcomed by the United States. Imran Khan had blamed America for his ouster but later took ‘U turn’ as it had not yielded a positive result. The United States kept military top brass in its arena of influence hence ex-army chief Bajwa had sought US administration assistance to ensure the approval of a bailout package from IMF.
Some of the Pakistani leaders had acknowledged that it was a mistake to go for the wars with India as it gained nothing out of it though ruling politicians keep on harping on the Kashmir issue. General Bajwa had tried to break the ice with India’s national security advisor, Ajit Doval when he suggested a trade model to move ahead but his term ended and it remained as an idea on paper which could have brought metamorphosis in the relations between two countries.
Analysts opine that due to international and domestic pressure of people, parliamentary polls may be held as army generals are supporting this initiative. It could act as a ray of hope for the survival of democracy which is already at Cross road in Pakistan. India will also favor stability in Pakistan as turmoil suits Dragon which wants pot boiling to achieve a narrow political end in the Asian region.
(Writer is Political Analyst and having an experience of six-year stint of foreign posting in a neighboring country)