Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks to media after appearing before a Joint Investigation Team in Islamabad on June 15, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood
Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was blamed for all the nation's problems, including those that occurred under his successor Imran Khan. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

The political turmoil in Pakistan is worsening with every passing day. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was allegedly brought to power by the military establishment, is finding it tough to steer the country out of its political and economic crisis.

On Saturday, Khan won a vote of confidence from the National Assembly (NA). Khan needed that vote to confirm his majority in the lower house of parliament after his party suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Senate at the hands of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties.

Not only did the PDM manage to get ex-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani elected to the Senate, defeating the incumbent finance minister Hafeez Shaikh, but it also managed to secure a majority in the upper house.

Though Khan somehow managed to thwart the crisis for the time being by getting a vote of confidence from the NA, for sure the storm is not over for him. The rising inflation and increasing poverty in the country are only making his Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) project a nightmare for the masses.

Such is the state of affairs that even the military establishment is unable to run the country from behind the scenes. The frustration of the elite was evident on the day of the vote of confidence, when parliamentarians of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were attacked by a mob of supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

This perhaps showed the true picture of the situation as the establishment’s rigging of the political discourse and backing Khan has not only ruined everything but it has brought never-ending polarization to the country.

In sheer desperation, after losing recent by-elections and then losing the Senate, Imran Khan is trying everything possible to stay in power. The question remains, however, how he will survive the onslaught of the opposition at a point when the establishment is about to ditch him and is looking for a new puppet to rule the country on its behalf.

The victory of the opposition in the Senate is just a glimpse of how easily Khan could be sent packing, as he enjoys a very thin majority in the NA.

The opposition parties who boycotted the proceedings on Saturday and did not participate in the proceedings of the assembly to vote against Khan perhaps are not in a mood to dislodge the PTI government immediately. After all, no mainstream political party would like to clean up the mess created by a few generals and Khan during a recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The failed political doctrine of the military establishment and the sheer incompetence of the Khan-led PTI government have already worsened the economic turmoil in the country.

Not even the likes of Ishaq Dar, the ex-finance minister, or for that matter anyone can quickly put the country back on the path of progress.

Since power politics is a game of nerves and timing, both Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N know that engaging the establishment in a dialogue for temporary relief will only strengthen their position on the power chessboard.

For Khan the game is almost over, as perhaps a few generals will still support him, but he does not enjoy the unconditional support from the establishment that he had after his relaunch in politics in 2011. So probably he knows this is his first and last time to enjoy power, so he is trying everything to stay in charge.

The question is how long a few generals will be able to save him from the inevitable, as the growing anger in the masses about inflation, unemployment, and economic turmoil is growing with the passage of time.

We have seen in the by-elections that the PPP swept the province of Sindh and Sharif’s PML-N not only swept Punjab but was able to win a provincial seat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which had been considered a PTI fortress.

As far as rigging is concerned, in Daska, Pujab, the Khan-led federal and provincial governments tried to rig the results of the by-election on the NA seat but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ordered fresh polls.

The ECP showing spine, Gillani winning election to the Senate and poised to become its chairman, and Hamza Shahbaz getting bail after almost one and a half years, all are important developments. Of course, if the situation had been in favor of Khan these developments would have never occurred, but this time those who pull the strings from behind are gradually distancing themselves from his sinking ship.

This is perhaps the first time that the doctrine of the military establishment to rule the country indirectly has backfired, and it has happened in only two and a half years. Though the majority of the mainstream media was behind the hybrid regime, still the opposition managed to produce counter-narratives through international media and digital news platforms, and the inability of Khan and his backers to manage the economy and governance doomed the Naya Pakistan project.

Both Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, to their credit, stood their ground, and their resilience pushed the invisible forces on to the back foot. However, the problem remains that no mainstream party is ready to change this rotten system where the establishment and the political elite with the help of civil and military bureaucracy has exploited the masses for decades.

The PPP getting cozy with the establishment and PML-N negotiating with the powers that be mean that even if Imran Khan is sent packing, the role of the establishment in shaping political, religious, and foreign-policy narratives will not be finished.

For Khan, the only way to survive is somehow to mend fences with the mainstream political parties, but given his narcissistic nature, this is impossible. So after enjoying the support of powerful quarters of the country, he stands isolated on the political front, and his political life support that was provided by a few generals in the military establishment is about to be switched off.

The fall of Imran Khan and the end of Naya Pakistan were evident from the day when Sharif and his daughter chose to return to Pakistan from the UK to face the farce of “accountability” and politically motivated corruption cases in the courts framed at the behest of establishment and the PM. It was only a matter of when and where Khan would be thrown into the dustbin of history, and perhaps that time has come.

Somewhere sitting in their dark rooms the shrewd men of the establishment will be a little nervous, as they never expected the demise of their doctrine so early in Khan’s tenure, whereas Sharif sitting in London will be getting ready to have the last laugh, as even if he does not topple Khan in the center he can easily topple the provincial government PTI holds in Punjab.

Zardari will be more than happy, as not only has he gotten relief from the “accountability” witch-hunt but his party is poised to get the chairmanship of the Senate soon under Gillani. For Khan, the writing is clearly on the wall, and that is the end of a political stint in power that was attained through a rigged political discourse.

The endgame has started, and the interesting thing is that Khan cannot even get rid of the government until both Sharif and Zardari agree to topple him.

The same Sharif who was portrayed as the reason for all the woes of the country through propaganda by the establishment and controlled media is gradually getting ready to become the next prime minister after the next general election, whereas his party stands united and is enjoying a popular wave of sympathy. Meanwhile Zardari’s PPP is still invulnerable in Sindh.

This always was a game of nerves, and if even the establishment could not defeat its political opponents, especially Sharif, Khan was never going to do it either. 

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.