An old image of Imran Khan from his cricketing days. (Image: Twitter/ICC)
“I will not resign. I will play till the last ball just like I did when I played cricket.” Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to Pakistan ahead of a critical vote of no-confidence on Sunday was filled with bravado and a sense of deep distrust towards his fellow politicians, the United States of America and the perennial Pakistani bugbear, India.
The incumbent Pakistani premier is now a dead duck as far as politics goes. His coalition government is sitting on the verge of a collapse. In the Pakistan National Assembly, the halfway mark is 172 members and the joint Opposition claims to have a clear majority of 177 members on their side and an additional 22 rebels of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) ready to cross over and vote against Imran Khan. The vote of no-confidence is scheduled for Sunday and if Interior Minister of Pakistan Sheikh Rasheed is to be believed, the next 48 hours are critical.
Imran Khan, who as a cricket captain commanded absolute authority of the team that had standout individual performers like Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, has been unable to keep the egos of his allies and opponents in check. The troubles for Imran Khan began when the wily old Asif Ali Zardari stepped out of the shadows to take charge of the operation topple the government. Zardari is a master at the art of managing foes and friends, and with him in charge, the Sharif’s were brought on board. The bargain struck with Zardari’s PPP offering support to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister, two other key allies of the PTI, the MQM and the Balochistan Awami Party, were also leaned on to back the no-confidence motion.
The last option left for Imran Khan was to play the emotional card, and in his speech on Thursday night, he did exactly that. Imran’s allegation is that his government is being brought down by the Americans who had plotted with what he calls “the three stooges” to ensure that his premiership would not last its term. Imran’s old ally, the Army led by its chief General Bajwa, had long given up on Imran, leaving him to his ways as they watched silently.
What has precipitated this crisis seems to be Imran Khan’s urge to draw closer to the Sino-Russian axis of powers after the Americans under President Joe Biden cut off critical aide and kept Pakistan low down in its food chain
With China exerting undue influence in the world, Imran began gravitating closer to Beijing. Then came Imran’s visit to Russia on the day Vladimir Putin started his invasion of Ukraine. The world watched in shock as Imran muttered “Its great be here in such exciting times” on his arrival in a freezing Moscow even as Russian cruise missiles were aimed at Kharkiv and Lviv. The visit confirmed that Pakistan was looking to cut its umbilical cord with the United States in favor of the Sino-Russian coat tails. The visit triggered the Opposition in Pakistan to intensify its efforts to bring down Imran and return to normal service where aide dollars made the likes of Sharif and Zardari richer.
In his Pakistani counterpart that Pakistan would be better off without Imran. However, there are many in Pakistan who still don’t believe Imran’s charges. The Opposition in fact stayed away from the National Security Council meet on Thursday where the contents of the alleged note were made public.
In his speech, which Imran surprisingly delivered live, he left out much criticism of India, something that has been the calling card of most premiers of Pakistan. For India, a Pakistan without Imran is an equally tough challenge, the wily Sharifs can never be trusted after all it was under Nawaz Sharif’s premiership that India and Pakistan went to conflict in Kargil. While the Army is still big brother in Pakistan, what will worry India is that when Gen Bajwa retires in November, the torch will likely pass to Gen Faiz Hameed, the Peshawar Corps commander and former ISI boss who played a critical role in bringing the Taliban to Power in Afghanistan. It’s a wait and watch game for India.
30 years ago on March 25, 1992, Imran Khan took the ball in his hand with England needing 23 runs of the last over to win the Cricket World Cup. Imran struck, leading Pakistan to victory and its first World Cup win. Today, the ball is once again in Imran’s hand and he needs to get a whole bag full of Opposition wickets if he has any hope of surviving the Trust Vote. This time, however, politics may strike before, running out Imran and knocking off yet another legitimately elected government in Pakistan. On Sunday, we may have a new government set to take charge but remember these 48 hours are the nights of the long knives, and in Pakistan these knives have been sharpened.