Pakistani politics are currently at a critical juncture. In Pakistan, each civilian government’s relationship has been tenuous with the military establishment, and the affliction of the three-year itch appears to have infected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government as well. It seems that the deadlock over the appointment of the head of the ISI has finally sounded the death knell for this hybrid regime designed by the military.
Imran’s experiment turned out to be a disaster. There has been growing unease and unrest within the military ranks over the turmoil in the affairs of state. The soldiers who supported the current regime had to take responsibility for the multiple economic, political, administrative and diplomatic blunders. And yet they continue to be stoically blamed for there does not appear to be a viable or attractive political alternative.
At this point, however, it seems their patience is running out. Imran Khan forced their hand by interfering in the internal process and functioning of the military for its political interests and survival. For the Pakistani army, this is an unforgivable transgression.
History has shown that civilian interference in military affairs, attempts to politicize the military, and the selection of favorites among the ranks of the military have been the subject of serious reprisals in the past. Nawaz Sharif testifies that this scenario results in the individual paying a very heavy personal and political price and it is unlikely that it will be otherwise with Imran Khan.
Khan resisting the selection of the new ISI chief who was not expressly chosen by him forced the army to fall back, forced to ignore the lack of political alternatives. Cohabitation with a renegade prime minister until 2023 does not seem to be an option for the Pakistani military. The trust factor has evaporated. With Imran Khan’s refusal to be a mere approval authority, fears remain that he will exercise his considerable powers as prime minister.
The fear that he could use his power to change the dynamics of power, change hierarchies in the military, appoint a loyalist as the next ISI leader is very real. Its approval is needed to ratify constitutional appointments. He could, if he so wished, dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections. In short, it can complicate things for the Pakistani army. Removing him from his post as prime minister may be the only way to release the pressure building up in the system.
This poses several existential questions. Filing it might be less of a problem than figuring out what to do next. In all eventualities such as surprise appointments etc., the military would likely intervene directly. It promises serious internal repercussions, but nothing that cannot be handled with skillful diplomacy. In any case, Pakistan has several currencies up its sleeve. His position in Afghanistan makes him invaluable to the United States and the West. Chinese and Russian support shields him from the possibility of a coup. A hypothetical technocratic government could keep the situation at bay with the promise of new elections within a limited time frame that would give the military a chance to reorganize and reorganize without bearing the burden of responsibility.
The other option could be an unprovoked motion of censure. This will prevent Imran Khan from calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly. This option, however, implies the inclusion of Nawaz Sharif in the plan. Obviously, there is quite a bit of haggling going on and it would be realistic to expect him to expect the lawsuits against him and his family to dissolve and to push his brother Shahbaz Sharif to power. while remaining in the shadow itself.
A PTI government could be formed without Imran Khan backed by the PML-N with the PPP possibly in a supporting role if he follows the line. This interim arrangement could move the country forward and facilitate a smooth transition to an interim government until new elections are held. If the PPP is on board, a victory in Sindh is assured. The PTI will be dumped in the center, in the Punjab, Khyber and Pakhtunkhwa. The PMLN is not interested in internal change unless it paves the way for a new election it hopes to win. There is a good chance that in the next few days Imran Khan and his supporters will have an avalanche of legal problems.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the opposition alliance – Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – has resuscitated itself and launched a series of protests and threatens to march on Islamabad. The PPP is also planning its own “long march”. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has come out of the woods and launched a sit-in in Lahore. Protests against deteriorating economic conditions make life difficult for the Imran Khan regime. Non-Imran loyalists in the ruling PTI coalition are expected to begin to distance themselves from the current regime. This dissident faction with outside support will find it relatively easy to dismantle Imran Khan’s government.
The military will find a willing partner in the opposition which has been hounded and hounded to the point that it is not averse to supporting it against Imran Khan.
However, the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same holds true for Pakistan and for bogus democracy in Pakistan. The result of these operations will unfortunately be that the policy in Afghanistan will remain unchanged. Regardless of who is in charge in Pakistan, the “Quetta shura” will be dominated by the Haqqani and therefore the ISI and the Pakistani army.
Pakistan’s tacit support for the Taliban will only grow stronger and with it the use of Islamic elements and proxy armed groups to wage war on the non-Islamic world. Pakistan as a nuclear power, under the control of fanatics, is almost an apocalyptic prophecy. The fall of Kabul to the hands of the Taliban has triggered this countdown which will eventually affect South Asia as well as the entire world geopolitical order.
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990s as Special Assistant to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-Mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades, he has participated in peacebuilding and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020, his first fiction “Napoli sta bene” is published.