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More problems for Imran Khan as Army taps former Pak President Asif Zardari for possible ‘regime change’

Former Pakistani president and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Asif Ali Zardari

Is Pakistan's military establishment trying to dump Prime Minister Imran Khan? There is a buzz in Pakistan’s political circles after former Pakistani President and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),  Asif Ali Zardari revealed that he was asked for help to strategise  a plan for the future of Pakistan. Though Zardari did not disclose the source of his contact, the Pakistani media is speculating that the former President  was referring to the military establishment. According to a Pakistani daily The News, Zardari told his “callers” that no talks were possible till the Imran Khan government was sent packing. Zardari reminded them that he had forewarned them in 2018  that this government was not going to deliver as Prime Minister Khan “is incompetent".

Zardari also apparently referred to the minus-one formula, which was “leaked” by sources close to the  Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s camp a few months ago. It was then said that the military establishment was not happy with Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government. Sources pointed out  that instead of going for  a coup, the military establishment was considering a “minus-one” formula. That means removal of Imran Khan and formation of  another government with the support of other political parties as Imran Khan’s government is already in minority.

Three years ago, in 2018, the victory of Imran Khan in the 2018 election was seen as a reassertion of the military’s influence. There were widespread allegations that the military  swung the election in Khan's favour, including claims that intelligence agency ISI intimidated opposition politicians into switching to his party. Even the international observers reported similar findings and analysts described it as a "hybrid military regime".

But soon, Imran Khan started asserting his powers as PM on many issues,  which the military interpreted as a revolt against the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The most recent affront was a month-long impasse between Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa on the issue of appointment of new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General. “I am democratically elected, Army works under me”, Imran Khan has been quoted as saying.

However, many political analysts in Pakistan say that Khan is being naïve. “Whoever tries to challenge the military establishment, will be removed. We have seen how democratic governments were overthrown in the past,” says Pakistani journalist Riazul Haq.

But is Khan’s removal imminent ? Pakistan watchers say that by sending feelers to Zardari, the army is trying to gauge the mood of people.

“No one knows the truth about Zardari’s statement. But one thing is sure that honeymoon with Khan is over. Security establishment knows that Khan has failed to deliver. It happens here when people are fed up with the civilian government, they expect help from the army but I don't think that army will take over, they may try various combinations. There are many in Imran Khan’s party who are in the good books of the army,” says one analyst. 

Meanwhile Zardari has announced on Thursday that he would challenge the Imran Khan government by organising protests and dharnas in Islamabad and Lahore, ”It’s time to get rid of the government”, he announced.

Separately, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a 11-party opposition alliance, has been holding massive rallies since its inception in September to seek Khan's ouster and press the military to stop interfering in politics. The PDM has been accusing the Pakistan Army of installing a  "puppet" Prime Minister through a manipulated election in 2018.

Also Read: Imran Khan’s party routed in civic elections, as angry Generals refuse to rig polls