Imran Khan represents a peculiar phase in politics that emerges during a period of economic contradictions between the ruling elite and the wider population and which cannot be resolved by democratic and peaceful means. Pakistan is suffering from a deep political chaos that stems from a debt-dependent economy.
The rift between Nawaz Sharif’s army and the civilian government led to the eventual death of the latter. The question was who would be responsible for running the economy of Pakistan. When it came to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted Parliament to be the highest decision-making body. But the army was not ready to bow down.
Imran Khan was launched by the military establishment to discredit the two-party system, which according to Khan were coming to power in turn to plunder the country. Khan was also given the narrative of a fictional Riyasat-e-Madina which to me is a fictional idea and was applied by Khan to Pakistani politics as a deadly political weapon.
The military engineered the pronunciation of Imran Khan in power so he was named the ‘selected’ prime minister by the opposition.
The first task that Khan was given by the Pakistani military establishment was to beg for money around the world. Khan gave his best. However, an economy that depends entirely on loans and borrowed money cannot create a sustainable economic base. Therefore, as the months and years passed, Pakistan’s current deficit, trade deficit as well as external debt continued to increase.
A civilian section of Pakistan’s ruling elite, led by former President Asif Ali Zardari, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Jameet-e-Ulema Islam leader Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement or PDM. Dozens of public meetings were organized in which lakhs of people gathered. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif delivered fiery speeches accusing military generals of conspiring against elected civilian governments of the past.
The anthem of the PDM rallies became slogans like ‘Yeh jo deshshat gardi hai, is ke peche vardi hai’. The military general was now clearly on the backfoot. The economy that Khan was supposed to turn has slid further downward to bring Pakistan’s GDP into the negative.
General Bajwa and Khan began to doubt each other as Bajwa felt that Khan was not only unable to deliver but on the contrary had handed over the country to the dogs.
The then DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, who is accused of political engineering that brought Khan to power, was now trying to oust the army chief. General Hamid’s visit to Kabul in August 2021 to meet the Taliban and help them build a consensus to form a new government in Afghanistan was seen as a direct challenge to Bajwa’s authority.
Then on October 6 last year, the rift between Imran Khan and General Bajwa over the transfer of Lt Gen Hamid as Peshawar Corps Commander and the appointment of a new DG ISI turned into a bitter conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, General Bajwa managed to replace Shahbaz Sharif as the leader of the PDM, replacing Maryam Nawaz. Sharif prohibited raising anti-army slogans in PDM rallies. It now became clear that General Bajwa was supporting the opposition against Khan. In Peshawar, the former DG ISI, loyal to Khan, was pulling strings from the Peshawar Corps headquarters to weaken the opposition.
This led to a division in the army that had never been heard of in the past. Such hybrid warfare in an institution like the Pakistani Army has seriously undermined the fighting spirit of soldiers and lower-ranking officers.
It is in this background that Khan decided to break the entire democratic process and tighten his grip on power. He made a plan. On February 24, just a day before Russia invaded Ukraine, Khan landed at Moscow airport to meet with President Putin.
Khan knew that at a time when Western democracies were opposing Russia and NATO was being mobilized, Khan’s visit would be criticized by the West.