Imran is doing something to unite the corrupt opposition
Imran clearly knows where all this is coming from, that's why he's not too concerned. But, apparently, some of his senior ministers are; that's why they've now dangled a carrot while still wielding the stick.
With Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jamiat e Ulema e Islam-Fazl, about to head the combined opposition in laying siege to the capital (October 31) and demanding Prime Minster Imran Khan's resignation, it is quite understandably prediction-season all over again in evening talk shows. But I can't really understand why most pundits are so ready to write off Imran's government already, even if they have to fall all over themselves just to make the argument.
For example, the most common prediction is that with the weight of the entire opposition demanding Imran's scalp, and the capital in lockdown and the economy suffering, the all-seeing establishment would have to step in and call a snap election. But when you say that two minutes after making the argument that Imran had to go precisely because he had been pushed by the brass, and hence stripped of political legitimacy, you kind of lose the plot, don't you?
And while we're on the bit about the entire opposition coming together - no mean feat given Pakistan's political history - let's just see how they really got there. You can praise Fazl all you want for rallying the opposition till they finally formed an alliance, but the real credit must still go to Imran. Why do you think the two biggest, oldest parties - PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) - didn't quite want to hop on till the last moment?
PPP initially didn't like the maulana using the religious card, which he has to because that's where his street presence and staying power comes from, but they were fine with lending some solid moral support. PML-N was torn, with big brother Nawaz all for it but little brother Shahbaz dead against further confrontation with the powerful establishment. Plus, everybody knew Fazl was just doing this because he got thrown out of the House for the first time in three decades. What's to be gained, in the long term, by playing second fiddle to him?
It's only when they realised that they couldn't use this opportunity to make the government go easy on the corruption cases that they finally decided to join Fazal, in the interest of people and democracy, and demand new elections. If Imran had not put a former president, prime minister, chief minister, senior ministers, spoilt rich brats and so on in jail, there would have been no question of the opposition forming a historic alliance to protect the people from high prices and authoritarianism.
Imran clearly knows where all this is coming from, that's why he's not too concerned. But, apparently, some of his senior ministers are; that's why they've now dangled a carrot while still wielding the stick; offering talks to the maulana even though he has a pretty straight forward two-point agenda. Imran resigns and there are new elections. So what's there to talk about?
They're worried because, as they no doubt remember well from their own agitation in 2014 against Nawaz Sharif's government, these protests might not hurt the government directly but they sure take the life out of the economy. And right now the economy's more precarious than it has been in a long, long time.
That, in large part, explains the confidence on the part of the maulana as well as the opposition's many advocates in the media. If they can't come back with his head they can at least cripple the economy. Then who in his right mind is going to vote for him? That's one way of helping the people. Already the weak economy, along with accusations of being "selected", is the opposition's main battle cry.
But it's not as if the government has not tried very hard to turn the economy around, even succeeded to an extent. Just the other day news came of a 64 per cent reduction in the current account deficit, which they inherited at the most bloated levels in our history. Granted, it's not quite the turnaround they are celebrating it as, but it shows a sort of a turnaround that will prove beneficial in the long run.
It's come on the back of a drastic reduction in imports, which were primarily luxury items. It's fast becoming apparent that part of the reason trade earnings were so deep in red was the political and industrial elite (rulers and their backers) routing illegitimate money to buy top-dollar foreign luxury. And since the old elite is now largely in jail and there's a very serious hunt for stolen money, the mystery of the current account deficit bulge is also being nicely solved. Next, they must do something about exports and revenue or all this will amount to nothing. And you can well take them to task if they don't.
Who's to say what the maulana will really achieve. Specialists at deciding the nation's fate on prime time TV, who almost always get it wrong, may have read the tea leaves right this time and Imran could well be gravely hurt by this protest. But wouldn't that only make Imran the best predictor of them all? He said long ago that he'd make yet more political history by uniting all his enemies. All he had to do was go after their corruption. And there they are, thick as thieves, just as he said, leftists, extreme right religious outfits, liberals, conservatives, centrists, all in a grand embrace designed only to rubbish Imran to the dustbin of history forever.
Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan