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Pakistan on edge after assassination bid on Imran Khan

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan recovering from his bullet injuries at the Shaukat Khanum hospital in Lahore.

Politics in Pakistan has always been riveting and the November 3 assassination attempt on ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan has thrown up interesting developments in the country’s body politic.  It would seem, judging by the recent happenings, that Imran Khan is back to the centerstage of domestic politics amid reports of his convalescence from the bullet injuries on his right leg. Imran Khan is now looking impatient to resume his abandoned long march, fighting for “real freedom” until his last breath as his party supporters are going gaga over the likely resumption of the march.

Meanwhile, there also seems to be a sympathy wave in favour of Imran Khan following his divorced wife Jemima Goldsmith’s recent statement expressing sympathy for Imran and more importantly, arrival in Lahore of his two grown up sons from London, who have not stepped on Pakistani soil since 2016.  This has also generated a sense of compassion for Imran Khan.  In between, the injured ex-Prime Minister claimed that he had discovered an alleged plot to assassinate him two months ago. He said he would disclose the name of the second military official allegedly involved in the plot during his address to supporters participating in the “long march”.

Khan had already accused Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and army officer Major General Faisal Naseer for conspiring to kill him. In an address from Lahore, Khan repeated his earlier allegations, saying Major General Naseer was “the mastermind” of the attack.

Not to lag behind in their analyses in the aftermath of the assassination attempt, political commentators have sharpened their knives in evincing extraordinary interest in the ensuing developments.  Some very seasoned Pakistani commentators have described the ongoing scathing public exchanges between the various political parties as rare. They reckon Khan’s present status clearly shows the growing hostility between the former Prime Minister and his erstwhile patrons. His aggression against the military leadership denotes no breakthrough in the ‘back-channel talks’ with the generals. Apparently, the demands presented by Khan were believed to be unacceptable to the establishment. His rising populist support seems to have added his perceived arrogance.  As it is, PTI has control of two of the most important provinces besides being in power Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)  and Gilgit-Baltistan. Having a government in Punjab has particularly given the party huge political advantage, making it much difficult for the establishment to deal with the challenge posed by the PTI. This notwithstanding, it was not possible for Khan to get an FIR  registered against the senior military official whom he publicly accused of plotting to kill him.

The resistance apparently came from the Chief Minister of the province himself. It was a clear signal from the establishment about the limits of Khan’s power and was also interpreted as a strong rebuttal to the former PM. Yet, this has not deterred the former Prime Minister from upping the ante.  A senior columnist writes that there is a complete breakdown of authority. The fear of civil “strife” looms large with the impending collapse of state institutions. The ongoing political showdown and polarization threaten to derail the democratic process.

Imran Khan’s confrontation with the establishment cannot be taken as a battle for civilian supremacy. It’s a mindless struggle for power. The country is moving towards a state of anarchy with no resolution in sight. This individual assessment could be an exaggeration but it cannot be ignored either.  Now, going by this assertion, situation in Pakistan not only looks volatile but uncertain too keeping the all-powerful army on the edge as the present COAS had indicated not to accept an extension of his term.

Also Read: Who will succeed Gen. Bajwa when he finally retires as Pakistan’s Army Chief next month?

In a related latest development, Prime Minister Shebhaz Sharif has accused Imran Khan of attempting to ruin Pakistan through his agitation.  Also, the PML leader Nawaz Sharif has received his diplomatic passport in London and soon after it’s receipt, he blamed Imran for his efforts to harm Pakistan.  So, we see emergence of Nawaz on the political scene which will make circumstances more exciting.

In the meantime, journalist Syeda Zahra Shah Subzwari says Pakistani premiers have a short shelf life. They are either ousted politically, forced to resign, deposed in military coups or assassinated. No Prime Minister in Pakistan has completed his or her full term. In the same location where Pakistan’s first PM was slain, two-term Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim nation, was killed in a fatal attack in Rawalpindi in 2007. A generation of Bhuttos had been eliminated through assassinations; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto, and Shahnawaz Bhutto.

On the external front, Pakistan needs to project a more positive image to the outside world, and a less intrusive military would be a good place to start. Political polarization in Pakistan has caused the country to become more violently divided.  Perhaps for the sake of Pakistan’s future, its politicians should refrain from causing hatred which makes the public even less tolerant. A large section of Pakistan’s present generation seems to agree with this argument.  However, Imran’s strong resolve and a direct confrontation with the political party in power and the military combine has placed the situation, fraught with extreme peril with propensity of assuming dangerous proportions in the near future.

Also Read: FIR fiasco gives Imran Khan an edge in fight with Army Generals

(Shantanu Mukharji  is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)