Imran's campaign against graft rattles the old elite

The opposition is trying to stall the govt, but the jury is still out on whether people support them

By Shahab Jafry

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Published: Sat 29 Jun 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 29 Jun 2019, 10:28 PM

The opposition in Pakistan could have chosen a better day for its landmark All Parties Conference, to unite to save the economy and people from Prime Minister Imran Khan, than when Pakistan played one of its crucial do-or-die matches at the Cricket World Cup. Maybe that's why Bilawal and Maryam kept leaving and coming back. To check the score. And they kept reporters waiting for the announcement because they wanted to make sure the boys had the match in the bag first.
Either way, you can bet that Imran wasn't concerned enough not to watch the match; hoping that Sarfaraz would read the Kiwis just like he's read the opposition. After all, he predicted long ago that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and everybody else, would forget all their differences and hatred to join hands against him; because democracy itself would come under threat if he came to power and pursued corruption cases against them. He even said, rightly, that good old Maulana Fazlur Rahman - head of the JUI-F (Jamiyat e Ulema e Islam-Fazal), chief patrons of the Taleban - would be part of the mix, providing religious sanction to the agitation.
The maulana was, indeed, the host of Wednesday's APC, which means that almost all those who got stung by Imran's election victory last year have now united to protect religion and politics in this Islamic Republic. But even Imran must have been impressed by the kind of unity he has inspired. Sure, the PPP and the PML-N looked to bury the hatchet the moment their godfathers got caught laundering money, but it was quite a sight to see some of those leftist liberals from the north, diehard secularists, becoming one with the farthest reaches of the far-right clergy; all for God, country and no Imran Khan.
It didn't need to get this far, of course. They warned Imran all along that the way he was handling the country, especially the economy, just wouldn't work. And all he had to do was step back from the corruption cases and everything would be fine. But he had to go on national TV, point his finger and swing his fist and promise he wouldn't relent even if it took his life. How's that supposed to help the economy and the people? So they were left with no choice but to finally throw down the gauntlet to him.
So there'll be a no-confidence motion against the Senate chairman for starters. And there's no way they'll let the budget sail through parliament which, technically, would tantamount to a no-confidence vote against the PM. If that doesn't work, Plan B, or C, is all about street power, shutting down the country so Imran just can't run it. That'll turn the economy around and give people some relief, won't it?
But, ironically, the opposition forgets that in piling so much pressure on Imran it is only putting itself to test. You see, while everybody has been fretting over the economy and losing their jobs, a dramatic change was taking place in a rather subtle manner in Pakistan.
Nawaz has long been in jail. Little brother Shahbaz is out on bail for now, but it's only a matter of time before the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) picks him up in another of the many cases involving him and a lot of unexplained money. Plus the NAB has already nabbed his son Hamza and efforts are underway to extradite Nawaz's sons from the UK.
Zardari, too, was finally picked up by the NAB. And he has a snowball's chance in hell now of ever enjoying the billions that finally, apparently, did him in. Somebody even got Scotland Yard to question old Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussein in London.
All this happened, yet no wave of people descended upon the capital to line up and die, if necessary, for their supreme leaders. Weren't these the people who, like they said in Rome, only had to "stomp my feet and legions upon legions would rise around me"?
Now no phone calls are keeping the NAB from pursuing corruption cases against people who decided the fate of the country for decades or, even more shockingly, preventing high courts from rubbishing bail requests from people who once held judges in their pockets.
Imran may have chosen a bad team and misread the economy, but he's also triggered a confrontation that pits behemoths of the old status quo - industrial barons and feudal lords who grew rich as the country got poor - and institutions of justice and accountability that are still learning to stand on their feet.
And he has clearly weakened the opposition. So far they've not been able to back threats with action as their high priests are rounded up one by one. Now they've threatened a long march on the capital if the budget gambit fails.
But what happens if the Caesars show up and the legions don't? Sure, they'll hurt Imran by paralyisng parliament and trying to choke the capital. But who gets a bigger nail in the coffin if common folk in the opposition fold begin abandoning their masters' victim narrative for Khan's corruption narrative and simply stay home?
Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Lahore

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