During the last sitting of a deliberately prolonged National Assembly session, many members were almost explicit and near desperate to seek a strategy, enabling them to push back the message, former prime minister Imran Khan had vigorously been drumming since his removal through a vote of confidence on April 9.
The session ending on Thursday furnished a flood of extremely intense moments, often reminding the nerve-straining scenes of a thriller. Some appearances of complete deadlock also triggered fears that extra-parliamentary forces might intervene and in the process could demolish the whole “democratic system.” With supremely crafted optics, however, the same forces eventually compelled Imran Khan to concede count on the motion of no confidence put against him.
But he turned super active after his removal. Maintaining incessant contact with his followers, he kept hawking the story that the United States of America was solely responsible for his fall; Washington felt offended with his dedicated attempts to pull Pakistan out of its influence. In delirious moments of blaming the Americans he also seemed to project some powerful institutions of our national security state as “facilitators.”
The story of “American conspiracy,” Imran Khan continues to promote aggressively, is laden with so many holes if you judge it cool headedly. But the same has surely recharged his base. His diehard supporters are enthusiastically cheering him up and eagerly desire to take ‘the fight’ to next levels. All political forces who had ganged up to remove him, on the contrary, seem to have exhausted their accumulated heat. They rather look rudderless and not sure where to go from here.
Otherwise known as a hyperactive deliverer and hands-on manager, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is yet not able to provide the feeling of energy, stability and cohesion about the government he leads. Simply to hold the office, he appears behaving like a helpless hostage, spending more time in appeasing and pleasing a large number of recently cultivated “allies.”
Even some of his ardent admirers have worryingly begun to feel as if he has lost the script. They strongly feel that if Imran Khan was not checked here and now, he might soon be able to enforce earliest possible elections, facilitating the former prime minister to return with a massive if not 2/3rd majority.
Raja Riaz, one of the PTI members of the national assembly, is now a prominent rebel from this party. He took the floor Thursday to launch a counter-assault on his former leader. Keeping his cool, Raja Riaz tried hard to sell the story that Imran Khan had “asked for it” by audaciously disregarding the constitutional constraints of parliamentary system. Around a score of MNAs from different parties instantly grabbed the theme spun by him.
Perhaps too late in the day, they also tried to defend and praise the role Pakistan’s Supreme Court had played to “protect and uphold the Constitution.” They were also very critical of President Alvi. Calling him a slavish loyalist, they also blamed him for the reckless dereliction of constitutional duties.
Notwithstanding the visible anxiety prevailing among the treasury benches, the close and trusted aides of both Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari continue to transmit confident vibes. Being veteran players of power games, they anticipate that even if Imran Khan were able to draw a record-breaking crowd to his rally in Lahore Thursday, his support base would start dwindling after that.
Last ten days of Ramadan keep the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis busy in prayers and preparing for Eid Celebrations. In our cultural context, the trusted aides of Shehbaz Sharif see a window of opportunity to stay open for them at least for the next three weeks. During this period, they plan to flood the regular and social media with stories that could damage the squeaky clean image of Imran Khan. They seriously believe that the anticipated stories would be laden with “credible but lethal details.” And Imran Khan would find it extremely difficult to disregard them. After pushing him to a defensive corner, the Shehbaz government intends to switch its focus on dealing with economic challenges it had inherited.
Shehbaz Sharif had selected Miftah Ismail to manage things on the financial front. He had already left for Washington. During his stay there, he would actively participate in Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF executives. After tough negotiations, he expects to soften ultimate managers and regulators of the global economy, eventually persuading the IMF to release $ one billion from the “bailing out” package for Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is preparing to leave for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His first visit to that country after assuming the Prime Minister’s Office could furnish substantial and comfort-providing cushion to Pakistan for navigating through dire straits of economic and fiscal management. The government also expects significant help from our all-weather friend, People’s Republic of China.
Shehbaz Sharif’s trusted aides insist that after scuttling the feeling of economic doom and gloom, the recently assembled government would succeed in generating the appearances of cohesion, stability and consolidation about itself. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari can make it look more credible by joining the federal cabinet as the foreign minister after returning from London. He had gone there to meet with Nawaz Sharif and negotiate the terms for establishing trust based working relationship with Pakistan Muslim League (N).
Shehbaz Sharif had formally inducted Tariq Fatmi, a veteran diplomat, as his Special Assistant for dealing with foreign affairs. A day after, however, the government “de-notified” his appointment. This visibly embarrassing development made many in Islamabad to strongly suspect that for being allegedly involved in the scandal of “Dawn-leaks” in 2016, vigilant monitors of national security “objected” to his name. But a federal minister, known for active access to Shehbaz Sharif, firmly denied the said perception. He kept stressing that Fatmi would stay put as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, without a portfolio, though.
Separately talking to me, another minister confirmed his story, which also claimed that Fatmi was being “readjusted” to ensure BBZ that he would enjoy complete command and control of the Foreign Office after joining the federal cabinet.
Yet the promises of remaining ‘off the record’ failed to persuade the same ministers to confirm another story spreading like a wild rumour in parliamentary corridors. It claimed that “not less than 25 MNAs” from the PTI have discreetly approached Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the National Assembly Speaker. The obvious intent of the rumoured contact seems to seek time and reconsider the idea of resigning from the National Assembly, as the PTI had already announced, “en masse.”
If the said rumour proved correct in the end, at least 55 members could still be seen sitting on the benches allotted to Imran Khan’s PTI in the House. Their return will also dampen the vigour for a mass scale movement that the former prime minister is determined to launch for extracting earliest possible elections by paralysing the recently assembled government.