by Zafar Bangash (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 3, Ramadan, 1443)
Last month’s unprecedented rallies held in Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore reflect the masses’ support for Imran Khan, ousted from power as Prime Minister of Pakistan on April 10, 2022. People from all walks of life—men, women, youth and children—voted with their feet to join the rallies.
Even in blistering heat and while fasting in the month of Ramadan, the people’s enthusiasm for their ousted leader has been phenomenal. Never before in the history of Pakistan have such huge rallies been witnessed and at such short notice.
Last month’s political developments in Pakistan have fully exposed the devious players as well as the country’s dysfunctional system. Pakistani politicians, media talking heads, judges and some generals have all sold their souls to the devil. They chase dollars and do not allow their conscience, if they have one, to get in the way.
As the 2010 Wikileaks cables from the US embassy in Islamabad to the State Department in Washington DC revealed, Pakistani politicians will sell their mothers for a few dollars. Despite such revelations, the politicians, far from being shamed, have sunk to new lows. Seeing the lure of dollars, others have also joined the long list of saleable commodities including journalists and judges.
In the recent crisis, politicians, even two-bit players, and journalists made a bee-line to the American embassy to receive bakhsheesh to overthrow an elected government in Pakistan. Lacking a clear majority, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) had to enter into alliance with other political parties to secure a parliamentary majority to govern.
This made his government vulnerable to defections. But the manner in which politicians were bought, including about two dozen members of his own party, has shown how low they and the judges and journalists can sink. Judges, bedecked in their flowery robes, sit on the bench not to deliver justice but to subvert it. Money talks.
The judges—and indeed the bureaucracy and the police—in Punjab province were bought and groomed by the Sharif family for 30 years. They have to oblige for favours done. This is what the judges and the police are now doing.
There is, however, a new reality that has dawned in Pakistan: an awakened people. No amounts of denials or media blackout of Imran Khan’s rallies can obfuscate the reality of his popularity. It is revealing that PTI’s Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore rallies were blacked out by 90% of the electronic media. Yet, people broadcast cell phone footage on social media. People all over Pakistan and even abroad watched live coverage of these rallies.
Nobody had imagined the degree of support among the masses, especially the middle classes, for Imran Khan. Even military veterans are backing him fully. This has rattled the military top brass. Social media reports say that a heated exchange took place between the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and about 400 veterans in Lahore on April 17. The meeting lasted more than four hours with pointed questions asked of the chief.
The Lahore meeting was preceded by the veterans’ refusal to attend Iftaar parties organized by the army chief in Rawalpindi/Islamabad and Lahore respectively. Such parties are much sought-after to rub shoulders or shake hands with the most powerful man in the country!
The gist of the Lahore meeting as reported on social media was as follows. General Bajwa admitted that since Imran Khan did not accept advice (for advice, read orders)—‘he takes solo flights’ were the words reportedly used by Bajwa—the military withdrew its support of him. New elections will soon be held in Pakistan and whoever win, the military will support him. His intelligence agencies must have reported the groundswell of support for Imran Khan throughout the country.
In Pakistan’s fast-paced developments, the April 14 press conference of DG-ISPR (the military spokesperson) Major General Babur Iftikhar is also important. On March 27, Imran Khan had waved a letter purportedly sent from the US about regime change in Pakistan. Opposition politicians and lotas as well as TV anchors on the US payroll immediately ridiculed the claim. One journalist, Salim Safi, went so far as to claim that governments do not send such letters these days!
The “letter”, it has now transpired was a message delivered by the outgoing Pakistani ambassador in Washington DC, Asad Majeed to the Foreign Office following his meeting with the US assistant secretary of state, Donald Lu. In it, the state department official had said that if the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan succeeds in parliament, the US would forgive Pakistan and relations would be back to normal. If the motion fails, Pakistan would face ‘serious consequences.’
The letter was discussed in the National Security Committee and then a press release issued. General Babur Iftikhar in his April 14 press conference said that it mentioned “foreign interference” but did not use the word “conspiracy”. The general could have saved himself much grief by not indulging in such verbal acrobatics.
Is there a difference between conspiracy and foreign interference?
But this was enough for the bone-chasing media dogs, especially Salim Safi and Hamid Mir, to run with it saying, “See, there was no ‘foreign conspiracy’, only foreign interference”. From outright denials of the existence of a foreign letter to now hiding behind semantics cannot wash away the crime they have committed.
The people of Pakistan are not buying these nonsensical denials. Nor are millions of overseas Pakistanis. In fact, even non-Pakistanis in North America and Europe have expressed dismay at Imran Khan’s ouster.
While it is true that Imran Khan failed to deliver on many of the promises he made during the 2019 election campaign, the verdict on this should have been left to the people of Pakistan, not the US or the corrupt politicians, journalists, judges or military top brass. It is quite possible that had he been allowed to complete his term as prime minister, the people may not have voted for Imran Khan in the next election.
It is depressing to see that thieves, rapists and murderers have been installed as rulers at the behest of a foreign power. What can be more insulting than having a man facing money-laundering charges and out on bail becoming the prime minister of Pakistan? And his equally thieving droplet has forced himself to claim the title of chief minister of Punjab!
Welcome to American-sponsored democracy in Pakistan.
The people of Pakistan know that two institutions in particular are responsible for the current mess: army and the judiciary. Since the army is a rigidly hierarchical institution, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of General Bajwa. It has already affected people’s perception of the military. Its carefully-crafted image has taken a beating.
There is only one way out of the current impasse: immediate elections. Let the people decide who they want as prime minister. The military and the judiciary should stay out of politics. It is none of their business. If they persist in their folly, the day is not far when people’s anger will boil over and erupt into civil war in Pakistan.
The people of Pakistan should understand that their real challenge is not a few individuals but the entire system that is rotten to the core. A system that cannot provide justice to the people is not worth saving.
It must be demolished and replaced by a system that will respond to the needs of the people.