The political temperature in Pakistan rose several notches after the 11-party opposition conglomerate, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), decided that all elected legislators would give up resignation from national and provincial assemblies to their party leaders on December 31st. While the resignation card now counts heavily, no decision has yet been made on how and when it will be played, if any. Even so, the threat of resigning the masses from the assembly clearly indicated the strengthening of the opposition position. The intent to disrupt, degrade, and destroy the current hybrid political system – a civilian façade run behind the scenes by military forces – is now very visible. According to the PDM’s view, the only way to achieve its goals is to enter into a prolonged confrontation with the dispensation in power, and create so much pressure that the hybrid regime has become completely untenable.
For its part, the ‘elected’ government is trying to come out indifferent, even daring the opposition to continue its threat. Prime Minister Imran Khan has declared that if the opposition withdrew en masse, by-elections would be held in vacant seats and his party would win a comfortable majority. But no one has bought courage yet. In fact, after the PDM announced his resignation, Imran Khan has – at least twice – offered dialogue to the opposition. He had even found the goodness of parliament, a place he almost never despised to visit, and declared Parliament the best place to be. political dialogue. This was seen as a sign that either his handler had forced him to offer an olive tree to his opponent, or he was shaken enough to start getting off his tall horse. PDM, meanwhile, has disdainfully rejected every dialogue with Imran Khan says he is “not worthy enough to talk to”. At the same time, the opposition still has not completely closed its doors to dialogue with military establishment who have installed and still support Imran Khan.
PDM, meanwhile, has disdainfully rejected every dialogue with Imran Khan says he is “not worthy enough to talk to”. At the same time, the opposition still has not completely closed its doors to dialogue with military establishment who have installed and still support Imran Khan
Clearly, the political trajectory is leading to an all-or-nothing type of clash. But even when things turn to their end, it’s hard to say how the political cookie will crumble. Will the PDM succeed in forcing the government to leave? Or will the unity of the opposition collapse, partly because of state repression and partly because of contradictions within the opposition conglomerate and the clashes of interests of its constituents? And if nothing happens, that is, the government manages to hold on to its post, but the opposition is gathering more power on the streets – rendering the government powerless and making governance impossible – then the prospect of Pakistan looking to political and economic collapse will be very real. After all, prolonged political instability and uncertainty is something the military cannot and does not want.
For the PDM, a resignation card is the same as nuclear option politics. This is definitely a high-stakes game where one side will go broke in one last gamble. If successful, the PDM will emerge as the winner, even though the victory turns out to be very powerful; If it fails to achieve its objectives, resignation could mean a total explosion of not only the PDM but also the parties that formed it. Put simply, if all of that is going to be used, resigning must be the last resort, if you will be the last will, before storming the fort. Because if this fails, the setbacks will be almost insurmountable. As a statement of intent, depositing the resignation of all DPR members and their party leaders is fine. But once these resignations become real, there is no turning back. It can be a resounding political victory or an embarrassing political death.
The PDM leaders’ assumption was that the resignation would be the government’s final nail. PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman believes that once the seats of the opposition in the various assemblies are empty, it will rob the government of all legitimacy. He supports breaking college elections for the Senate elections due next March, which will push things up. While there is no doubt that if the entire opposition steps down it will cause major political chaos, whether this will be enough to topple the government and impose new elections is debatable. Much will depend on how much opposition can band together and not cut a deal. Beyond unity, the ability of the opposition to maintain a tempo of protests will also be critical to its success.
The PDM leaders’ assumption was that the resignation would be the government’s final nail. PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rehman believed that once the opposition seats in the various assemblies were vacant, it would rob the government of all legitimacy.
Imran Khan, however, insisted that he would not quit. Instead, he will hold a by-election in the vacant seat. Constitutionally, the opposition’s resignation will not affect the electoral institutions for the Senate elections. Imran can also use tricks to ensure that the resignation is not accepted until after the Senate elections. This is precisely what happened after Imran Khan’s party submitted its resignation from the National Assembly in 2014. If the resignation is not accepted, technically there will be no vacancies and will be seen as the opposition abstaining / boycotting the election. While the legitimacy of a Senate election would be highly questionable, its legitimacy, or lack thereof, has never been an issue in Pakistan. Imran Khan, of course, will get a majority in the Senate, which will allow him to mutilate Pakistan’s laws and constitutions at will. But there will also be serious consequences. Political temperatures will rise to breaking point and will burn any bridges that remain between the army and the opposition.
Holding a by-election will also be a double-edged sword for the opposition as well as for the government. If the opposition boycotted, it would give way to the ruling party and could even end up giving up political space in some constituencies. On the other hand, if the opposition decides to enter this election, it will have to win almost all seats back to express its opinion. Even a few defeats can take the wind off the opposition’s sails. But if the opposition competes, it will seem perceptively that everything is back to square one. On the government side, while at one level would definitely think it’s in a sweet spot with the opposition tying itself up, at another level holding elections in nearly half of the constituencies will create irresistible and untenable pressure on politics. system. At a time when the economy is faltering, Pakistan’s relations are not very good with the Arabs, the situation with India remains hostile, Afghanistan remains in flux, massive domestic political turmoil can force military rule.
For the past two years and more, the army has had to bear the brunt of maintaining Imran Khan’s post. How long will they continue to bear the burdens that now make the military’s name and image so bad? For reasons of self-defense, the top military leadership (see Army Commander General Qamar Bajwa and ISI Commander Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed) can still decide to stay with Imran Khan no matter what. But it will not solve problems of obscure and clueless governance, political mismanagement and chaos, and diplomatic catastrophe, something that is causing a fair amount of unrest in the ranks of the army.
For the past two years and more, the army has had to bear the brunt of maintaining Imran Khan’s post. How long will they continue to bear the burdens that now make the military’s name and image so bad?
Obviously, circumstances are on the way, something must be given, even more so if the opposition escalates its protest to the point where instability and uncertainty are the order of the day. A crackdown by the military may buy temporary peace, but it will almost certainly backfire badly in the not too distant future. But the mother of all questions looming over the military establishment is: what is the alternative to Imran Khan? In general, the options are as follows:
Minus-One formula: Imran Khan was overthrown and someone from within the PTI replaced him under the current political arrangements. The replacement eases pressure on the opposition and the current dispensation is stumbling the finish line by 2023. The problem is that the PTI is a sectarian party. Removing Imran Khan means the party will split and the current coalition will have no number of members in Parliament. Another bigger problem is that minus one will ultimately mean minus three because once Imran leaves, the positions of Bajwa and Hameed will become very untenable under the new political dispensation. Would the army defuse the two, if not soon after in a few months (or a respectable period of time)? What are the future implications of such an army’s move? Wouldn’t that open the floodgates for similar pressure in the future when other popular political figures target high-ranking military officers by name?
National government: Imran Khan is overthrown and a national government consisting of representatives of all parties in the current Parliament is formed for a limited time and with the same minimum agenda. Numerically it is possible, but politically it will be difficult to run.
New elections: The assembly is dissolved and new elections are held. The problem is that it will mean temporary relief, even if it does. The interim government will only be a containment operation and that too at a very critical time. After the election, the loser (according to all accounts of Imran Khan) will be once again take to the street in a few months and the entire dirty cycle will repeat itself. What’s more, the winner – most likely PMLN Nawaz Sharif – is hardly a match for the military, certainly not for the Bajwa and Hameed duo.
Military takeover: This is the least desirable option but never leaves the table. The problem is that it will once again put Pakistan in the international dog house. At a time when the economy is on the line, this is the last thing Pakistan can achieve. China would of course support a military regime, but without the West, Pakistan would find it hard to survive. Plus there are domestic pressures that need to be addressed. But there is always Afghanistan to save. It is possible that Pakistan will strike some deals to please Afghanistan’s new Biden administration, and the US might look the other way instead, as it has done many times in the past.
Regardless of which option is chosen – stick to Imran for as long as possible or one of the four options outlined above – it will be an aid solution to the current crisis, and will not solve the fundamental problem – civil-military relations. Even if the military steps down for now, there is absolutely no guarantee that the current political atmosphere will lead to a complete overhaul of the civil-military equation. Without this, it’s only a matter of time before the military returns and the entire cycle repeats itself.