Islamabad: 19 April 2022: Following the DG ISPR’s presser, there was a wave of jubilation amongst those who have been saying that Imran Khan’s threat letter is just a ruse to get back into business. Even as the new coalition in Islamabad celebrated the sound bytes, the social media streams were flooded with the detractors’ “I-Told-You-So” predilection, for, this is supposed to nix the PTI campaign and put their leader out to pasture.
Seriously, though the new scheme of things in Islamabad is NOT really about the authenticity and extent of the threat contents from the security establishment’s point of view. They had already decided on a reset in ties with Washington months ago and were working towards this end for some time. Imran Khan was an obstacle but they were confident given the state of economy to see him out the door. They didn’t have to do this directly.
The quiet understanding meant the opposition was given a free run while the plug was pulled from the allies, not by force but design — a bit like Musharraf taking away Benazir’s security fully knowing that the Taliban militants were chasing her.
As a result, parties with deep pockets weren’t even apologetic about mixing the drinks, flashes of which were publicly evident with what went on at the Sindh House and later the fifth floor of Marriott Islamabad though the latter became public only after an investigative journalist broke the story.
In my reckoning, Imran Khan would have lost the elections anyway given the below par performance of his government, but the fear of his making a certain appointment down the road and the ‘Reset Plan’ meant he was fighting a losing battle.
But to return to the presser, some observations on the key points:
CONSPIRACY AND INTERFERENCE
We can play the semantics game all day, but let’s go by what the DG claimed. He said there was no mention of ‘conspiracy’ in the NSC communique. Agreed. But is “interference” kosher by any stretch of imagination? Let that be Imran Khan’s figment of imagination, if you will. But here’s the thing: the NSC ignored it until he made it public in the March 27 Islamabad jalsa and forced a meeting. A lot of critics have been questioning why Imran Khan kept quiet about it all along, accusing him of using it for political survival. But the fact is that the cable had already been seen by the military brass which agreed to review the options in terms of response upon his insistence. He is reported to have gone back to them a week after they saw it, reminding and urging action, but they continued to ignore. Obviously, it just did not fit in with the ‘Reset Plan’.
CLAIMS ABOUT BASES
The DG refuted that the Americans ever claimed bases. Even though it appears at odds with these reports of ‘Dawn’ and ‘The New York Times’ few seem to have bothered to check the facts related to the “Absolutely Not” claim. He was actually responding to a hypothetical question from an interviewer . But in Pakistan, this was twisted out of shape to suit narratives by both detractors and supporters. Having said that, about the only stance Imran Khan has fiercely maintained throughout his political life is against fighting “America’s wars” and allowing them Pakistani air space for these counterproductive measures.
THE RUSSIA QUESTION
The DG refuted that the army chief had deviated from the PTI government’s policy with regard to Russia. However, during the course of an international strategic dialogue in Islamabad, everyone was surprised by the change in stance spelled out by the army chief, which appeared to contradict the government’s stance of staying out of both superpower camps (including pertinently, not condemning Russia). In fact, he notably underlined the significance of ties with the US and EU with references to Pakistan’s trade equation to augment the changed stance. Clearly, the ‘Reset Plan’ was the pivot (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that equation even if it takes us back to the same old fold — away from the independent stance that was being espoused officially until then)
THE CHIEF’S RETIREMENT
Given the tense political heat and the public reaction to Imran Khan’s ouster and how it was achieved, an extension, in fact, may well-nigh be impossible in the circumstances. Few will buy how a court opened its doors at midnight to deal with an advance petition meant to prevent a certain change of guard if push came to shove. A copy of the petition was in circulation the night of Khan’s ouster. In any case, the “independence” of the judiciary is a lovely precept, but mostly stays on paper. A dozen examples can be advanced but surely we all know how Musharraf escaped capital sentence and how the verdict was swiftly overturned.
CONCLUSION: Imran Khan does not fit into the scheme of the ‘Reset Plan’ and so will have to sit it out. The shriller he gets about who effected “regime change”— Karachi jalsa will provide a hint — the more he will be isolated. If he does not “behave”, he might even be made an example out of in ways that may end his political career.