The events of the last few weeks have been more fantastic than any movie script. Imran Khan lost the army support, then his allies started to leave him, and finally his own MNAs, fed up with his arrogance, decided to bring him down. A no-confidence motion was presented in the house, and it quickly became obvious that he had lost his majority and would lose the no-confidence vote.
Whereas lesser men would have accepted defeat, Imran resorted to subterfuge. In his public meeting in Islamabad, large but nowhere near a million people, he took a piece of paper, ‘The Letter,’ from his pocket in a dramatic gesture, claiming that it was the proof of treachery, and that the opposition was in cahoots with ‘a foreign government’ which was determined to bring him down. According to Imran, ‘The Letter’ established that the opposition, about to topple his government, was composed of traitors to Pakistan, and using this contorted argument, he moved to dismiss the resolution as anti-Pakistan and to dissolve the parliament. Though his moves were clearly unconstitutional and not permitted under the parliamentary rules of procedure, nevertheless his unproven accusations of conspiracy and treachery overrode all dictates of law.
On the night of 7th April the Supreme Court finally passed their short order that the move by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly to defeat the no-confidence motion and to dissolve parliament was illegal, void, and of no effect. The clock was rolled back, the PM, his cabinet, parliament, and the no-confidence motion were all reinstated. Never before, in the history of Pakistan, has the opposition celebrated defeat with such enthusiasm, because they knew that the restored Imran Khan government would last only a day, after which they would vote him out and take over government, together with all offices of prime minister, cabinet, president, and provincial governorships.
The Supreme Court judgment came as a surprise to many who were expecting the judges to sit on the fence and avoid commitment to a clear and emphatic decision. Many expected that the court would say that though the ruling of the Deputy Speaker was unconstitutional and even raised questions as to how he could have signed off his order as the Speaker when he was only the Deputy Speaker, nevertheless, there was no going back and elections should take place forthwith. The factors that led to the decision were that this was one chance for the Supreme Court to redeem the reputation lost in earlier cases of political crisis due to the pressures and doctrines of necessity, with no risk. The establishment was staying out of this round, and the Bar Associations and lawyers throughout the country demanded a judgment conforming to law and the constitution, so why not do the right thing?
No longer limited by a 3 month election schedule, the new government now had enough time to deal with the problems created by Imran Khan, and to counter the aggressive propaganda campaign of the PTI. The opposition needed time not only to unravel the attacks and litigation of the PTI government against them, but also to build their own attacks against Imran and his ministers. The only pressure for an earlier rather than a last-minute election was that today they could blame Imran for all that had gone wrong, the crisis economy, the growth of poverty and inflation, tomorrow the voters would blame them. With the passing of time, the story of ‘The Letter’ and the international conspiracy would fade from memory, to be replaced by exposures of Imran Khan’s follies.
While both sides, the PTI and the opposition are desperate to win this epic battle, it is clear that for the coming year, both teams will lose, and the biggest loser of all will be the people of Pakistan. The Ukraine War has created a surge in the price of oil, gas, coal, wheat, edible oil, and minerals. Poor countries with current account deficits, who need dollars to buy energy and food, will not have the money to pay for these essentials. Sri Lanka’s erosion of foreign exchange reserves and massive devaluation has left her unable to pay for energy and food which has led to protests and riots over electricity blackouts, and the threat of famine. Pakistan is following the same road. Already load shedding means several hours a day when electricity is just not available. There is enough generating capacity but not enough dollars to pay for the fuel inputs, oil, gas, and coal. Import of wheat, palm oil, and fertiliser will at first become more expensive and then more difficult, resulting in panic.
Imran Khan’s reaction to losing both the government and the Supreme Court litigation will provoke agitation and rioting. This, in turn, will lead to further legal action against the PTI and its leader. By the time that elections finally take place 6–12 months later, the myth of ‘The Letter’ and conspiracy theories will have faded away, to be replaced by the exposure of the mistakes and crimes of the Imran Khan government — that bad economic policies have led to an economic collapse, that Pakistan’s three most important international relationships have been endangered, the US by the accusation that they are involved in a conspiracy to topple the PTI government, the EU by Imran’s high profile visit to Moscow the day the Ukraine war broke out, and China by Pakistan’s default in payment of Rupees 250 billion to the Chinese power plants (instead distributing the money under the EHSAAS scheme to potential voters). The US and EU account for most of Pakistan’s exports, the US (IMF and WB) and China (CPEC) provide the major part of the funding that keeps the Pakistan economy afloat. A mood of entitlement has been created by the PTI government by its wild promises that encouraged a fall in productivity, merit, and education but remained silent about never-ending population growth.
Even after losing the government and his prime ministership, Imran Khan’s impact will not disappear. He remains a hero to Pakistani youth, and he has managed to convince his fans that he is the only honest politician surrounded by the corrupt who fear his justice. However, now that he has stepped onto a level playing field, stories are emerging of Farah, Bushra, and Buzdar. Questions are being asked as to how he became so phenomenally rich in the last three years.
Imran Khan has warned that he will be a greater danger in the street than he has been in government. As prime minister, his weapons were NAB, the courts, the police, his control of the media, and his irresponsible use of populist slogans and policy. His dangerous populist adventurism in dropping petrol and electricity prices in defiance of rocketing world prices resulting in one more break down of the IMF programme, and his ‘Great Surprise — the Letter,’ a strategy that puts Pakistan’s economy and international relations in danger, is a high price for the political advantage he hopes to secure for himself. The former prime minister recognises that there are more young voters than old, more ignorant voters than informed, and that in Pakistan he can fool all of the people all of the time. The new Taliban Khan will be aggressively anti-West, Islamist fundamentalist even as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia becomes more moderate, and his promises to the electorate even more wild and fantastic. He has already smeared his rivals and opposition as corrupt and treacherous, he will now go even further, roaring like a lion at anyone or anything that stands in his way. Khan will blame the elite for the problems of Pakistan and will try to seduce the poor and educated as victims of an unjust society, an appealing narrative.
Yes, there will be an election. The question is whether the overriding election issue will be the treachery and corruption of the opposition or the incompetence and bad governance of the Imran Khan regime. An early election focused on ‘The Letter’ will give an advantage to Imran Khan, an election after 6 months will expose many of his wrong doings and put him at a disadvantage. Either way, an election will raise expectations with false promises as a growing population with declining skills and education puts impossible demands on an impoverished state.