Home Editorial Editorial: Imran Khan is Down, Not Out

Editorial: Imran Khan is Down, Not Out

The PTI would be wise to adopt flexibility in its political engagements if it is committed to ensuring the military remains out of politics

by Editorial

File photo of PTI founder Imran Khan

The Pakistan Army, through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Maj. Gen. Ahmed Sharif has indicated that any dialogue with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is only possible if the party publicly apologizes for the May 9 riots and promises to adopt “constructive politics” and forgo “politics of anarchy.” In a press conference, he went on to say that, regardless, dialogue “should take place between political parties” and it was inappropriate for the Army to be involved in politics.

The military spokesman went on to say that maintaining trust in Pakistan’s justice system required the “perpetrators of May 9—both the perpetrators and those commanding them” to be sentenced as per the Constitution and law. The messaging is clear: the Army—once Imran Khan’s biggest cheerleader—now considers him and his party’s politics personas non grata and the turning point was the unrest of May 9. The cracks in their bonhomie emerged with the appointment of Usman Buzdar as Punjab chief minister, but widened over replacing then-ISI chief Faiz Hameed with incumbent Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, eventually resulting in his ouster from office, as he lost the support of the military that his opposition alleged helped him win the 2018 general elections.

The intensity of the current rift makes it difficult to imagine the hope the establishment had placed in Khan when he rode to power in 2018 on a wave promising “change.” Unfortunately, his inflexible attitude toward the opposition set the stage for a deadlock that encouraged misgovernance, and evinced a misunderstanding of how parliamentary democracy works. The establishment that had once declared Khan a “savior” found him a “foe” within a year of his ouster. Amidst this shift, Pakistan faced record-breaking inflation, and a surge in popular support for Khan. This culminated in the Feb. 8 general elections, which saw significant turnout for PTI-backed independents—as the party was denied its electoral symbol—even as Khan remained incarcerated after three convictions in proceedings rife with allegations of misconduct.

The post-election scenario has seen the PTI form a government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but denied another shot at the center—though it maintains “massive” rigging is to blame for denying its mandate. The PTI’s popularity is undeniable, but it does not diminish how the party was indifferent to the issues faced by the people while in power, focusing more on playing political victim than leading its drive against corruption. Some believe the ISPR press conference spells the end of Imran Khan’s politics; this view not only seems premature, but also depicts a misunderstanding of the dynamics of the establishment, which never shies from leaving a door open even as it claims to shut all future avenues of collaboration. Whether or not the PTI can retake the center depends entirely on how effectively it capitalizes on its public support—and adopts a degree of political flexibility it has thus far shunned.

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