Pakistan's Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photo: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations/Handout via Reuters
Pakistan's Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photo: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations/Handout via Reuters

The month of November was expected be a crucial one in Pakistani politics, and that has proved to be so. First, there was Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s long march against the backdrop of the extension of General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure as Chief of Army Staff. Then former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s illness put immense pressure on both the security establishment and Prime Minister Imran Khan. This paved the way for pushing the establishment on the back foot, as not only has Sharif been allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment, but the powers that be have also decided not to back Khan in his witch-hunt in the accountability courts against his political opponents.

It also appears that another prominent but ailing opposition figure, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), will get relief through the courts on health grounds at some point.

This has dented Khan’s narrative of “accountability” that remains his only slogan to keep his vote bank intact. So he is furious as his lack of political acumen regarding when and where to rise above petty politics and his backers gradually leaving him on his own have created a lot of political problems for him.

Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, enjoys a very thin majority in the National Assembly and in the province of Punjab and right now both of PTI’s allies, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid e Azam Group (PMQ) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), have started showing dissent toward the politics of Khan and his cabinet. Anyone with a little knowledge of Pakistani politics knows that both the PML-Q and MQM always lend their support to the invisible forces so as to maneuver on the power chessboard. On the other hand, both the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are confident that either Khan will be ousted within a year or midterm elections will be held in 2020.

This leaves the whole situation gloomy for Khan, who is under immense pressure for failing to address either domestic or international issues as his focus remains only on criticizing his political opponents and trying to put them behind bars. So on Monday while inaugurating a section of the Hazara Motorway that was launched and almost finished by Sharif, Khan looked very angry and lost his cool while addressing the audience. He mocked PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto, again made derogatory comments about Fazal and, as usual, accused the Sharif family of looting the public purse.

His below-the-belt language and harsh words were evidence that he can sense what the future holds for him. After all, he has become a burden for his backers, who themselves are under immense pressure for bringing him to power.

General Bajwa, considered to be the architect of the current political discourse by many analysts, has lost some political space because of Fazal’s Islamabad sit-in and Sharif’s defiance. However, contrary to the speculation spread by many analysts and journalists, Bajwa is not going anywhere and will remain at the helm of military affairs. Likewise Khan will not be sent packing right away, as the more time he spends in power the more his inability to govern the country will be exposed. Perhaps that is the reason Major-General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), gave a statement on Monday that the army and the government were both on the same page, to end the speculations of an imminent regime change and give Khan a face-saving out for his political and governance failures.

So the situation on the power chessboard right now is interesting. The establishment has gone on the back foot and will have to sacrifice Khan at some stage, willingly or unwillingly. Khan knows this but cannot do much about it as his entire politics is based on hatred and narcissism. Zardari’s PPP and the PML-N in the absence of Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, along with Fazal, will be the main beneficiaries whenever the establishment ditches Khan.

The establishment too at some stage will have to sacrifice a few of its bigwigs, not only to polish its image in the eyes of the public but also to stop working for global players’ geopolitical interests. The current political discourse has the backing of Washington and Riyadh, and as long as President Donald Trump remains at the helm of US affairs and needs a face-saving exit from Afghanistan to bolster his re-election chances, and the Saudi monarchs also remain firm, it will be almost impossible to make any meaningful political changes in Pakistan.

Perhaps that is the reason all the opposition parties are content with only getting signals from the invisible forces that at least Khan will be replaced. But even if that happens it will still be business as usual, as Khan will be replaced by another puppet prime minister. Nothing will change unless Sharif or his daughter refuses to support a mere change of the puppet instead of actually throwing the powers that be out of the game.

But one must not to forget Bilawal Bhutto, who despite having a below-average media team has still been able to establish himself as a progressive and anti-establishment leader of the PPP. Neither Sharif nor Bilawal’s father Asif Zardari, because of their health issues, will play major roles in the future, which means the PPP will have the edge, as it will be led by the young and dynamic Bilawal, who has the ambition to revive the PPP’s old brand of anti-establishment politics.

Meanwhile the PML-N with its main leaders behind bars and Maryam being silent will not be very effective, unless Maryam again decides to take up the battle. Khan’s departure may take place in a few months or so, but the real change will only come when – with Zardari, Sharif, and Khan all out of the game – the architect of this political discourse, Bajwa, will also be made to leave at some stage. For that to happen someone in the PPP or PML-N will have to refuse to work as merely another puppet replacing the current one – the PTI regime.

Right now contrary to the speculations General Bajwa is not going anywhere and he is set to take the extension of his tenure, while Khan’s fate is as unclear and shaky as his style of governance and politics.

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