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Imran and army use India card to stymie determined opposition

With aggrieved opposition parties in Pakistan coming together to challenge the locus standi of the army-backed government of Imran Khan, the cornered Prime Minister has stepped up India bashing to divert attention from the crisis and ensure his survival.

Khan is clearly rattled, as perhaps for the first-time ever, the political parties are going to the extent of defying the formidable army generals who wield the real power behind the puppet Prime Minister. Pakistan’s economy is on the brink of collapse and inflation has soared to a record high, leading to widespread discontent among the masses. This has further strengthened the hands of the opposition and weakened Khan’s position.

Imran Khan said in an interview on a Pakistan TV channel that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is playing a "dangerous game" and has India’s support in levelling allegations of political interference against the army.

“Only Pakistan’s enemies would benefit by criticising the army. This is a dangerous game Nawaz is playing and I am 100 per cent sure that India is helping him,” he remarked.

Khan also said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has problems with the army because its world-class agencies “detected his theft.” He was referring to the corruption cases filed against Nawaz Sharif at the behest of the army’s notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

In his recent address at the UN General Assembly, too, Khan launched a tirade against India and presented Pakistan’s distorted version of the ground realities in Kashmir. With an eye on the extremist groups that function under the aegis of Pakistan’s army, Khan devoted a major chunk of his speech to the alleged atrocities being committed against Muslims in other countries including India. While he claimed that Muslims were being “targeted with impunity” in several countries and their shrines destroyed, he refrained from mentioning China for its persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the southern province of Xinjiang.

Ironically, Islamist Pakistan is critically dependent on Communist China for both financial support and military hardware and it cannot afford to ruffle the feathers of the dragon.

The political crisis for Khan has escalated at a time when Pakistan’s case comes up for hearing before the FATF (Financial Action Task Force). The global watchdog working to combat money laundering and terror finance has put the country on its grey list for failing to meet its norms on reining in terrorist organisations.

It is crucial for Pakistan’s tottering economy and bankrupt government to avoid being further downgraded from the “grey list” to the “black list” of the FATF.

The political fight within the country has also exposed the Imran Khan government’s approach of not being genuinely interested in complying with the FATF norms but merely trying to beat the system in staying out of the blacklist.

Inclusion on the FATF blacklist would put Pakistan in the same category as Iran and North Korea making it ineligible to apply for any loans from international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. It would also face problems in financial transactions with other countries.

The army had recently enabled Imran Khan to bulldoze a new law through parliament, ostensibly aimed to bring Pakistan in compliance with the requirements of the FATF. However, the content of the law has been farmed to give the country’s notorious national anti-corruption bureau and the intelligence agencies sweeping powers to arrest political leaders and crush dissent.

The opposition had initially defeated the passage of these bills in the parliament’s upper house, the Senate, where it has a majority. The Imran Khan government then pushed the legislation in a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate with the support of the army. Opposition MPs have now openly stated that they were forced to stay away from the joint session by the military brass.

The opposition fears that under the guise of fulfilling the FATF requirements, these laws have been passed to further persecute political opponents. The army appears to have overplayed its hand, triggering a strong movement with a unified opposition seeking the ouster of the Imran Khan government and asking the generals to stay out of political affairs.

The former cricketer also knows that he is batting on a sticky wicket as India has collected more evidence to show that Pakistan has still not stopped supporting terrorism which will be presented at the FATF meeting this month..