Guest Post from Professor Ali Minai.
Now that the “bad drama in Slamabad” is over (temporarily, I’m sure), some reflections.
The opposition’s decision to move no-confidence at this time made no political sense. After all, why rescue an opponent drowning in a vortex of circumstances and incompetence? Imran Khan could have been left to flail around on his own until elections in 2023. The reason that the opposition went for him now must have been something they feared would happen between now and next year that would entrench PTI in power. Imagination suggests options, but it hardly matters now.
During the whole no-confidence saga, the opposition unwittingly gave Imran Khan at least three opportunities for winning the larger game. The best one came early when he first lost his majority in the Parliament. He could have resigned gracefully as PM – showing commitment to democratic values – taken on the role of leader of the opposition, and held the feet of his opponents to the fire until the elections next year. After all, the opposition has no magic bullet for solving the problems of the country in a year, and is likely to fall into squabbling soon. That opportunity was missed because Imran’s ego overcame his reason – a familiar pattern.
The next, somewhat less attractive, opportunity came when the vote on the no-confidence resolution was called. Imran could have resigned then or let the vote pass, left with democratic credentials intact, and begun a popular campaign for the next elections in the streets. Instead, his well-known self-belief bordering on self-delusion led him to try a blatantly unconstitutional gimmick that united the opposition and backfired in court.
The third opportunity occurred after the Supreme Court’s verdict on April 7. By then, a lot of the benefit had already been squandered, but resigning with some dignity was still possible. The narrative of American interference had also begun to take root. But in his arrogance – apparently at the behest of a few very close advisers and against the advice of most others – Imran Khan decided to take a much worse tack, drawing out the vote, creating all sorts of uncertainty, and considering extremely radical last-minute moves. Eventually, faced with signals from the courts and the ever-present “Establishment”, he had to go out like a petulant infant deprived of his favorite toy.
Diehard supporters, of course, are in the grip of shock and anger, lashing out at every available institution in the language taught to them by their champion. But terminal failure is really hard in Pakistan’s politics. Imran Khan can now join the long list of zombies who haunt Pakistan’s political landscape, waiting for events or a patron to bring them back to life for a season or two. But all bets are off for now if he has indeed alienated powerful forces in the country as some news sources have reported. In that case, the Captain’s ship is going down. We’ll know when the rats start swimming away.
Meanwhile, a new play is about to start in Pakistan’s political theater. Some of the dramatis personae are known but ghosts and demiurges still lurk in the shadows. It is also not clear whether the play will be a comedy, a tragedy, or just history repeating itself as farce. The writer is known to be versatile, with a vicious pen and a dark sense of humor. The curtain rises….