Temporary breather for Imran Khan as of now, but what next?

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan must be a relieved man. And the sudden breathlessness has been cured by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which has granted a six-month extension to the Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa while ordering the government to bring in legislation to determine the extension of tenure of the head of the Army. As of now, the World Cup-winning captain-turned-lawmaker stays safe under the ‘protection’ of an all-powerful Bajwa.

And an ecstatic Khan’s tweet says it all, “Today must be a great disappointment to those who expected the country to be destabilised by a clash of institutions. That this did not happen must be of special disappointment to our external enemies & mafias within.”

Do not blame the resident of Bani Gala for this elation. After all, at a time, when his country is suffocating under uncertainties from all quarters, he desperately needs the support of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), especially someone who faces ‘allegations’ of surreptitiously clearing all stumbling blocks to elevate Khan as the Premier.

Khan who earned respect with his staid personality as the captain of Pakistan, is nowhere close to his persona as a PM whose survival strategy is heavily dependent upon keeping Bajwa and team in good humour.

Khan as the Prime Minister has been embroiled in one discrepancy after the other that has incurred the tirade of the Opposition parties which launched the much-hyped Azadi march under the leadership of   Jamiat Ulema Islam – Fazl (JUI-F) leader Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman seeking dismissal of Khan’s government.

Khan has his own reasons to ride on Bajwa’s shoulders – his utter failure in internationalizing the Jammu and Kashmir issue coupled with attack on minorities in his country and a receding economy– all these do not stand the Prime Minister in good stead. The ant-India sabre-rattling hasn’t won him the global backing he would have hoped for and amid this turmoil, a malevolent Army would only exacerbate his position which could only be resurrected by a friendly Army chief in Bajwa.

According to reports in the Pakistani media, the PM’s benevolence towards Bajwa hasn’t gone down well with some senior Army men who nourish dreams of holding perhaps the most coveted post in the country. And the Maulana’s march had the tacit support of these sulking men. Though, the recalcitrant Maulana’s mission hasn’t met with the success he envisaged, the Army stood solidly behind Khan to allay any threat to the government much to the relief of the Prime Minister.

Charges of mass-scale rigging that catapulted Khan to the PM’s chair were one of the key issues that triggered the march which however was afflicted by lack of explicit support from two of the main Opposition parties – PPP and PML-N. PML-N supremo and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared unequivocal support to Maulana, but hardly was it encouraging enough to bolster the tempo of the protest.

The role of the Army that stood solidly behind Khan during the Azadi rally only substantiated the meekness of the democratic tenets of the country where the government is always kept on tenterhooks in anticipation of a coup.

The hastiness at which the PTI administration approved the three-year extension to Bajwa a few months back without amending the Army Act was a blunder on the part of the government which has been reprimanded by the Apex court. As Imad Zafar writes in The Express Tribune, “The comedy of errors unleashed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) legal team meant that the government almost shot itself in the foot, insisting on committing blunder after blunder. From the simple clerical mistakes in the drafts presented in court to not being able to convince the court as to why Bajwa’s extension was essential, the antics which ensued have surely left PTI red-faced.”

In this context, the Prime Minister’s rejoice at the brief prolonging of Bajwa’s stint only exposes how pusillanimous, he is before the armed forces. Travesty of democracy and the electorate system – whichever way, it is Khan who stands on a sticky wicket.

The Supreme Court in some way has come to Khan’s rescue, but with a condition or warning – Bajwa’s extension would be declared null and void if proper legislations are not introduced. Now, it is left to Khan and his government to act upon the SC orders without any bias though. However, the man whose adeptness with the cricket ball was a nightmare for many a top batsman, is proving to be a weak-kneed Premier at the disposal of the military.

Khan has his own reasons to ride on Bajwa’s shoulders – his utter failure in internationalizing the Jammu and Kashmir issue coupled with attack on minorities in his country and a receding economy– all these do not stand the Prime Minister in good stead. The ant-India sabre-rattling hasn’t won him the global backing he would have hoped for and amid this turmoil, a malevolent Army would only exacerbate his position which could only be resurrected by a friendly Army chief in Bajwa.

Add to these muddy waters, the PTI government’s dilly-dallying in allowing Sharif to seek treatment outside the country. It is also time for the PTI government to pacify Bajwa who took the initiative of confabulating with business leaders in search of solutions to revive the dilapidated economy which impacts defence spending as well.

A country which has been under Martial rule for more than half the period since its birth, the fundamentals of democratic principles eat a humble pie and PMs like Khan are ‘custodians’ of a weak system where the threat of dictatorship always looms large. Though the Prime Minister is open to consulting with the Opposition on the legislation, it remains to be seen if it is just an eyewash or not. Maulana has taken exception to the fact that a ‘fake’ parliament will decide on such a serious issue like the Army chief’s extension and has asked for elections and subsequently a new parliament to execute the SC order.

The Supreme Court in some way has come to Khan’s rescue, but with a condition or warning – Bajwa’s extension would be declared null and void if proper legislations are not introduced. Now, it is left to Khan and his government to act upon the SC orders without any bias though. However, the man whose adeptness with the cricket ball was a nightmare for many a top batsman, is proving to be a weak-kneed Premier at the disposal of the military.

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