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Desperate, frustrated Imran losing grip on government

August 14 marks the 73rd birthday of Pakistan. In a few days, Prime Minister Imran Khan will also be completing two years in office. When the cricketer-turned politician became the 22nd Prime Minister, he had promised a 'naya' Pakistan (a new Pakistan) to the citizens of the country. He was a perfect poster boy and an ideal choice for the chief selector (Pakistani army) to lead the country and they made it sure he wins the elections too.

But it didn't turn out to be a smooth ride as Khan would have imagined. He had to face a barrage of bouncers one after another – Covid-19, Pakistan Stock Exchange recording the biggest decline in the last 15 years, US dollar jumping to around Rs 150, food inflation, etc.

But Khan was unmoved and kept on saying "<em>aapne ghabrana nahin hai</em>" (don't get panicked), as promised, I am going to give you a <a href="https://indianarrative.com/balochistan/pakistan-should-stop-the-bloodbath-of-minorities-in-balochistan-12601.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><strong>naya Pakistan</strong></a> soon."

He did that but only on a drawing board by unveiling a new political map of Pakistan which showed Jammu and Kashmir and many other Indian areas in Pakistan. Quite a pity that Khan couldn't go further till Bangladesh. Not just the world media but even experts at home mocked Khan's outrageous move.

Now, his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Quereshi has gone a step further and threatened Saudi Arabia for failing to convene a foreign ministers meeting on the Kashmir issue.

Appearing on various Pakistani news channels, Quereshi warned Saudi Arabia, saying "support us on Kashmir or we will seek support countries outside Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)."

Imran Khan's frustration is visible to everyone now.

He had spent most of the last 24 months in office blaming Pakistan’s former prime ministers for all the problems in the country. It made good fodder for the media. But in reality, there are no takers for Khan's rhetoric now. The new map is also an exercise to please 'big brother' China. Often accused of reducing Pakistan as a client-state of Xi Jinping's China, Khan not only kept Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin out of its cartographic expansion but also left the Ladakh frontier undefined to let China draw the line on the map.

It is quite evident that Islamabad has followed Kathmandu which had also issued a new map to emphasize its illegal claims on Lipulekh, Limiyadhura and Kalapani in India's Uttarakhand in May. It is not a mere coincidence that both Pakistan and Nepal are close allies of Beijing as the Xi regime continues to pump in money in the form of infrastructure aid to prop up both countries.

Immediately after taking oath, Khan had extended an olive branch to New Delhi, saying, "If India takes one step towards us, we will take two steps towards them." However, in reality, relations between the two nations have taken several steps backwards following the Pulwama attack, Kulbhushan Jadhav case and the flash point over scrapping of the special status of Kashmir.

Although India has no desire to either expand its territorial claims or give up on bilateralism vis-a-vis Pakistan, the new map reflects the frustration within the Imran Khan government over its inability to get the international community to side with Islamabad on the Kashmir issue after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, last year.

That Khan was a wrong choice is a realization dawning strongly.

"Imran Khan's government has been the most disappointing in the recent history of Pakistan. It is perhaps the first civilian government which is more dependent on Pakistan military. The mantra in Pakistan is that the civilian government and Pakistan army are on same page but in reality Imran Khan and his government has accepted subservience to the Pakistan Army," says Hussain Haqqani, a former diplomat.

Pakistan's already thin veneer of civilian democratic rule has been shredded to pieces. Leaders of both the major opposition parties in parliament are now in prison, as are the leaders of the populist Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The national media is firmly controlled by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

To Khan's advantage, his two opponent parties – Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – were on the run from the army and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). So crippled is his opposition by the NAB that Pakistan will not be able to find his replacement for a long time. After lambasting his already comatose opposition, Khan has also managed to booby-trap his own party while brandishing his worry beads in public.

Says senior journalist Khalid Mehmood, "Almost two years later, he has his opposition on the run, but his party has split under pressure from natural calamities such as Covid-19 and locusts. He damaged the system with the use of intemperate language which in turn ruined the image of his party men who lacked character when it came to bearing up under pressure."

Imran Khan's government has failed on every front. Prices have sky-rocketed amid rising inflation while the government has been unable to attract any foreign investment and also failed in creating business opportunities within the country. The global terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has already kept Pakistan in the 'Grey List' for terror financing as Pakistan has failed to check flow of money to terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It will be difficult for Pakistan to get financial aid from the IMF, World Bank, ADB and the European Union, thus further enhancing problems for the nation which is in a precarious financial situation. If Pakistan fails to comply with the FATF directive by October, there is every possibility that the global body may put the country in the 'Black List' along with North Korea and Iran.

There are growing signs that control of the government is sliding fast out of Khan's hands. Also, Khan's relationship with the military has reportedly soured in the recent months after his administration mishandled the coronavirus pandemic and faced increasing criticism over its handling of the economy, the aftermath of an plane crash and its apparent inability to forcefully respond to frequent accusations of incompetence by giving Pakistanis some relief at a time when they are facing so much pressure.

Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, said his party had repeatedly warned about the consequences of imposing a civilian proxy administration. Former defence minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif said that Khan's government had become a liability for its sponsors, the Pakistani army.

It was, in fact, the military that had called for a countrywide lockdown on March 23, a day after Khan had opposed it. Retired Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa is now Imran Khan's communication adviser and also manages China's Belt-and-Road Initiative program – China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Pakistan army is now taking a more aggressive role in policy making with COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa taking all major decisions.

"It is a tale of a failed state that came into existence through the ballot and eventually became a hostage of the military establishment, which never played any role in winning the country's independence and has lost four wars against India," says Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's former ambassador to the US.

As uncertainty looms large over a divided Islamabad, the talk of a minus-one formula – of Khan being replaced with another PTI stalwart – is unlikely to abate soon.

On August 14, however, the Pakistani citizens will hear more of 'naya Pakistan' from their PM..