Imran has failed to charm US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’.
New Delhi: The Pakistan Army is pushing for Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as it feels that Prime Minister Imran Khan has failed to “charm” both US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sources in the Indian establishment believe that even China, which Pakistan considers as an “all weather ally”, too, has lost trust in him and therefore, Imran Khan is losing support from all sides even as marchers of “Azadi March”—from Karachi to Islamabad—reached Islamabad this week, demanding Pakistani Prime Minister’s resignation. These sources feel that this could be the beginning of the end of the Imran’s regime. Imran took charge as Prime Minister of Pakistan in August last year.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl’s (JUI-F) “Azadi March”, led by its chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to call for toppling the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, reached Islamabad from Karachi on Friday. Interestingly, it was addressed by Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as well, who termed Imran as a “puppet”.
According to Pakistani media report, Imran Khan asked in a rally as to why Bhutto was joining hands with a right-wing Islamist party. Rehman has been alleging that Imran is a “selected” PM and not an “elected” one. According to him, the elections which brought him to power, were rigged.
Sources believe that the kind of response the march is getting would not have been possible without the active support of the Pakistan Army. “We need to remember that the protest march is not only getting support of the Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, but also a large number of people from across the country,” said a source, who is keeping a close watch on the developments in the neighbouring country.
The ongoing anti-government protest reminds one of the similar “Inqilab March” in 2014, which was spearheaded by Tahir-ul-Qadri Quadri and then “Azadi March” led by Imran Khan around the same time, against the Nawaz Sharif government at that time. Pakistan, experts feel, has come a full circle since then. That time, Nawaz Sharif was at the receiving end, but this time, it is Imran Khan who is facing heat from radical and fringe players.
Asked whether the “Azadi March” is an alarm bell for Imran, Kanwal Sibal, a career diplomat, who served as the Union Foreign Secretary, said: “Yes, it is. Fazlur Rahman is giving Imran Khan a taste of his own medicine by organising his ‘Azadi March’ to oust him from power. Imran Khan had used these tactics against the Nawaz Sharif government. The bad blood between the Maulana and Imran Khan rooted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa politics is well-known. Apart from an element of personal vendetta, the Maulana is capitalising on the situation of economic distress in Pakistan.”
A source said, “Not only has Imran Khan failed to set the economy right, he has also not been able to sell to the US as well as the other Western countries Pakistan’s fake narrative of the Kashmir issue.” “There is huge resentment against Imran, who has become one of the most unpopular leaders of Pakistan and therefore, Pakistan Army, which had supported him once with great hopes, is feeling let down. His much-hyped visit to the US where he addressed the United Nations meet, turned out to be a total fiasco. He could not convince the global community about his narrative on Kashmir. That is why, it wants to ‘get rid of him’ and prop up Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his place,” the source said.
On Imran Khan’s overall performance, Sibal said: “What more could have Imran Khan done to deliver what he was expected to do by the Army? He put Nawaz Sharif in jail through questionable judicial methods, as also his daughter Maryam who was gathering political support. It is a different matter that the collapse of Nawaz Sharif’s health has introduced an imponderable element into the evolving situation. On the Kashmir front, Imran Khan has exceeded all bounds of decency in attacking India. He has raised the Kashmir issue in the UNSC, the UN Human Rights Council, the OIC and has obtained support from China, Turkey and Malaysia. Pakistan’s frenzied propaganda campaign against India has yielded some returns in Western political and media circles. Pakistan has escaped being blacklisted by the IMF. Imran Khan has also given a religious colour to Pakistani politics by constantly harking back to the Medina model of a welfare state of the time of Muhammad that he seeks to build in Pakistan, calculated to appeal to religious elements in the country, including the armed forces.”
Imran Khan, according to him, is the Army’s man, and he has not only protected its economic interests, the Army Chief has acquired a say in running the economy. The overall political and economic situation in Pakistan is brittle and the Maulana wants to deliver a fatal blow to Imran Khan, if he can. He, however, feels that Bilawal can hardly deliver what the Army would want. “Bilawal comes across as effeminate and a novice can hardly deliver what the army would want. Bilawal is much less the Army’s puppet as Imran Khan is. If one puppet cannot deliver, another ill-equipped and uncertain puppet can hardly do so. If Bilawal replaces Imran Khan as a result of Army machinations, Zardari will have to be released, which will reverse the campaign against corruption that was Imran Khan’s agenda that had public appeal. More confusion will be caused internally about the corrosive corruption issue in Pakistan,” he said.
The economic situation in Pakistan is indeed dire, with inflation at 13%, growth rate falling to 3.3%, the value of the Pakistani rupee falling by 20% against the dollar and debt increasing to 30% of the budget. Pakistan desperately needs loans to cover repayment of past debts. The IMF bailout package of $6 billion will impose further austerity. Imran Khan’s promise to crack down on tax evasion and corruption has not produced any result, apart from putting all the principal Opposition leaders in jail by using the National Accountability Bureau for political ends.
A source said the march could be beginning of the end of the Imran regime. “The process has started. How much time does it take will depend on many factors. But definitely, Imran Khan is facing serious a ‘trust deficit’ with its one-time ‘mentor’ Pakistan Army. Pakistan appears to be moving towards a spell of uncertainty,” he said.
On its part, the Pakistan Army has already taken control of the economy. Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, in fact, called a meeting of the all the top industrialists and business leaders soon after Imran’s return from US visit last month, in which the Prime Minister was absent. This, according to experts, was a clear indication that Imran is gradually being sidelined in the complex power set in Pakistan.