NEW DELHI:In the bitter power struggle in Pakistan between Imran Khan and the “establishment,” the former Prime Minister appears to have seized the initiative, pushing the Shehbaz Sharif government and the military into a reactive mode.
By Monday evening, Khan managed to grab a larger global space to push home his narrative that the attempt on his life last week was the handiwork of three powerful individuals—Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, interior minister Rana Sanaullah and most importantly, Major General Faisal Naseer, who belongs to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI—the most sacred of the holy cows in the Pakistani establishment.
By taking the military head-on, the former Prime Minister appears to have rattled the “fauj,” which realises that if Khan succeeds, it will mean a fundamental power shift. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the military would be de facto subordinated to civilian control. Naturally, the military is bound to fight back at Khan’s endeavour to knock out the army from the pinnacle of power.
Firing a fresh salvo in the information war, Khan, on Monday went on air on CNN, parading his point of view about the assassination plot. In an interview with the well-known anchor Becky Anderson, the former Prime Minister asserted that he had been informed “from within intelligence agencies that the shooting which injured him would take place”.
The benumbed response from the police, which refused to lodge an FIR for 96 hours after the Wazirabad shooting further added credence to Khan’s accusations. Finally, when the FIR, on the insistence of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, was confusingly self-lodged by the police it excluded the three individuals that Khan had named. In the meantime, the hashtag #FIRRejected pushed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan’s party, went viral on Twitter.
The FIR fiasco has energized the PTI which now will, after a gap on account of the shooting incident, continue with its Long March to Islamabad. By continuing with its protest, PTI hopes to force the government to announce an early date for the national polls, and hopes to come back to power once fresh elections are held.
On Monday, PTI leader Asad Umar, detailing the resumption of the party’s long march said he will lead marchers in the Faisalabad division on Friday.
PTI leader Ali Amin Gandapur will lead protesters from the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and Murad Saeed will lead from the Malakand region.
“Pervez Khattak will lead the march from Peshawar and Hazara region,” he added.
In the power struggle which has spilled onto the streets, Khan has taken the military head-on. On Thursday, his supporters encircled the residence of the Peshawar corps commander after the former Prime Minister named Major General Naseer as a co-conspirator.
While he is recovering from his injuries in Lahore, his supporters from the PTI are blocking roads in Rawalpindi, the seat of Pakistan’s military headquarters.
The former Prime Minister also hopes to draw more supporters cutting across party lines. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Khan said that his party’s doors were open to “all democratic loving forces”.
“For the future of Pakistan the doors of PTI are open to all democratic loving forces to join our struggle for Justice, rule of law and freedom from foreign subservience — our goal of Haqeeqi Azadi.”
In the wake of Khan’s challenge, the Pakistani government has few options. Pushed on the backfoot, Pakistani interior minister Sanaullah has tried to justify the decision of not lodging the three names in the FIR.
“There must be some sort of evidence for the first information report (FIR) to be registered,” Sanaullah said while addressing a Tuesday press conference. The embattled interior minister continued to insist that there was only one “lone wolf” assassin who had been arrested, closing the door on Khan’s contention that two or more individuals were involved in the attack. He also asserted that instead of a mass upsurge the Long March had mobilised only a few thousand people, whose goal was to push the country towards chaos.
There is another view that the government is likely to arrest top PTI functionaries to stall the Long March heading towards Islamabad, and even go for a media blackout—both moves difficult to implement given the current momentum shift.
(This article first appeared on indianarrative.com)