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A fragile bomb for those who matter

Relations between Pakistan and the US have already hit rock-bottom, mainly because of Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan. Joe Biden hasn’t phoned Khan since he became president of the US. Khan took a seemingly innocuous cable that his ambassador in Washington transmitted to him to make it look like there was an American conspiracy to get rid of him.

SUNIL SHARAN | New Delhi |

Pakistan’s fate hinges on its Supreme Court. It can either let things be or it can reseat the country’s Parliament and allow the no-confidence motion to take place, which Imran Khan will almost certainly lose. Instead of blatantly violating the Constitution, and labeling the combined opposition as traitors, Khan should have allowed the no-confidence motion to proceed. Then he could have positioned himself as a sacrificial goat to his base to earn their sympathy votes.

Now he appears as a big, bad thug, who has also compromised the presidency of Pakistan. The opposition is a hodge-podge of disparate parties, only glued together to defeat Khan. Its incoming prime minister would have been the PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, who is Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother. Shehbaz has the reputation of being a solid administrator, although he lacks charisma. Nawaz would much rather his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, become prime minister.

Maryam’s charismatic looks and discourse are crowdpullers, although she lacks administrative experience. Maryam and Shehbaz don’t see eye to eye on many matters. Then there is the crafty Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP. In the past, the PML-N and the PPP have often been ranged against each other. Shehbaz’s government would have collapsed in a few months, giving Khan another leg up. But Khan has never been known for his patience. He has tried everything to discredit the opposition and its no-confidence motion.

When horse-trading was not working, Khan played the anti-American card. Relations between Pakistan and the US have already hit rock-bottom, mainly because of Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan. Joe Biden hasn’t phoned Khan since he became president of the US. Khan took a seemingly innocuous cable that his ambassador in Washington transmitted to him to make it look like there was an American conspiracy to get rid of him. He made it out as if the Americans were out to kill him.

The Americans, miffed, have got the IMF, which they control, to suspend aid to Pakistan. At one time, former Pakistani President Ayub Khan had said that Pakistan was America’s most allied ally. For most of its 75 years of existence, Pakistan has enjoyed American largesse and good relations with the country. But now, to cling on to power, Khan has murdered those relations. Pakistani army chief Bajwa keeps saying that Pakistan wants good relations with the US, but Khan behaves otherwise.

It was Bajwa who had made Khan PM in 2018 by dethroning Nawaz as PM and rigging the elections in favour of Khan. Bajwa still calls pretty much all of the shots in Pakistan, but Khan has become a Frankenstein for him. Bajwa has said in public that those who think that he runs Pakistan don’t know what Khan is. The Supreme Court is going to be heavily influenced by Bajwa. Bajwa keeps insisting that he has become neutral, but right now, he just seems to be going round and round. Pakistan is bankrupt, but its politicians have enough money to trade horses. By enough money, one means hundreds of crores of rupees.

Asaf Ali Zardari reportedly made loads of money when he was president of Pakistan, and earlier when his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister of Pakistan. Khan’s former law minister, Fawad Chaudhry, has claimed on Indian television that members of the national assembly were being bought for Pakistani Rs. 20 crore each (that’s just over Indian Rs. 8 crore). Roughly twenty of Khan’s MNAs have broken ranks and joined the opposition. If each was offered Rs 8 crore, then that is about Rs 160 crore.

Khan on his side has not been sitting quietly either. He had been dangling chief ministerships, federal ministerships and money aplenty to attract people to his side. One needs 172 votes to defeat a prime minister in the national assembly. The combined opposition had that and a few more. It did not need any PTI MNAs. But many PTI MNAs defected because they were fed up with Khan’s high-handed ways. Khan was arrogant and full of hubris even as the national cricket team’s captain. He used to abuse his players with the most unbecoming Urdu abuses.

Mohammad Azharuddin was captain of the Indian cricket team and played against Khan. He is reported to have said that he didn’t need to abuse his players to motivate them. Khan is 69. Age has not mellowed him one wee little bit. He has his chosen few and must be giving many of those out of favour a tough time, so they walked away. Horse-trading happens in India, but in India, a no-confidence motion brought against a government does not stop or stall unless the opposition itself withdraws it.

Realizing that his charges of pecuniary misdoings were not sticking, and were not preventing the no-confidence motion from happening, although the speaker of the national assembly, who is from his party, tried his best to do so, Khan resorted to his trump card. He said that Shehbaz Sharif had met with the US ambassador to Pakistan and had hatched a conspiracy with him to defeat him. Shehbaz has said that it is the duty of opposition leaders to meet with members of the diplomatic corps. He is right. This is the norm, even in India. So now in Khan’s mind, the conspiracy to get rid of him had spread all the way from Washington to Islamabad.

The question to ask is why the Americans would be so interested in a failed state like Pakistan. Once they quit Afghanistan in haste, they have lost all interest in the region. They only don’t want jihad to emanate from Afghanistan-Pakistan and Pakistani nukes to slip into jihadi hands. The former they cannot control too much.

The latter they have a firm grip on. Khan has emerged as a victor, as well as a martyr (think about that) in the eyes of his supporters. But in the eyes of those who matter, the Pakistani army, he is a fragile bomb. They will never trust him again.

(The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in
India and overseas.)