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View: Insecurities worry Imran Khan in 4th year of premiership

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A complex web of uncertainties and insecurities, mostly caused by his own ineptitude, but partly also by circumstances, troubles Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as he approaches the 45th month of his five-year tenure.

Most worrying is the question of support from the all-powerful army that supposedly brought him to power in July 2018. Despite his brave posturing, it is widely seen as iffy. Analysts are divided on whether the military continues to support him as strongly as before and more importantly, whether they have found a better civilian horse to back.

His political opponents think it has eroded enough for the military to search for an alternative, and choose someone “more reliable” from among them. Only two weeks back, Khan had publicly warned that out of power, he would be “more dangerous.” The ‘signal’ – that is the buzzword – was both to the military mentors and politicians.

Signals, betraying gnawing insecurity, have become sharper and louder when Khan is not engaged in bravado, as political competitors have begun closing in yet again. The opposition’s end-2020-early-2021 campaign had floundered and divided them because the much-sought signal did not emerge from the top military brass. The inevitable then happened: PPP, keen to retain power in Sindh province, drifted away from the self-exiled Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat.

Moves have resumed, and the opposition is debating whether it should take on Khan in the streets or through a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, or both. Analysts at home and abroad think this, again, has to do with a signal from the Army’s GHQs.

While Khan is clutching his oft-repeated claim of being “on the same page” with the army, the latter has not thought it expedient to echo this sentiment in public in the last few weeks.

This may have to do with Imran’s political moves and diplomatic posturing. In his zeal to fight corruption, he has alienated most sections of the society. Besides the politicians, sections of the Muslim clergy, businessmen and the volatile lawyers’ community have turned critical, while he has targeted those in the media who are critical of his super-patriotic sniping and self-righteous utterances.

Frequent attacks on religious minorities have given him bad press at home, but more than that, in the global media. Worse is the perception of inability to curb sectarian violence and terror attacks by powerful Sunni groups, many of them with sophisticated arms.

Terror-laced violence marred his recent high-profile China visit during which he sought, besides pushing for Phase 2 of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) urgently needed loan, arms to compete with an adversarial India and greater trading space. Internal cohesion, the prime precondition for securing all these, is missing under Imran.

For governance he relies upon un-elected officials and experts for want of trust for lawmakers, and fires them at will. But his own decision-making has been found prone to pressures, causing many U-turns, enough to win him the sobriquet of “Mr. U-Turn.”

His diplomatic moves have puzzled the world community. For one, he has pushed the country close – critics say, too close – to China. He has matched it with constant anti-American chatter at a time when he is desperately seeking a loan from the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF).

His current peeve is that US President Joe Biden has not even phoned him one year after taking office. He has all but cursed the Americans for pushing his predecessor Pak regimes into supporting the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, and blamed them for causing death and destruction. This is seen as a kick-on-the-back to the Americans who evacuated from Afghanistan last year.

The West thinks that Khan’s utterances are betraying his sympathy for Islamist groups, including Al Qaida and the Islamic State, while encouraging precisely these forces to gain ground in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region.

The chatter comes amidst seeking humanitarian aid for the Taliban in Afghanistan, whose victory was facilitated by Pakistan. But Islamabad’s own “strategic” victory has proved elusive with the Taliban refusing to curb the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan’s own Taliban, responsible for attacks on CPEC projects, annoying Beijing no less.

Imran Khan has also annoyed Arab allies by getting cozy with their rival, Turkey. His connect with the most influential Saudi Arabia is rated as poorest among the Pakistani politicians. He or his ministers have slighted Riyadh and even the OIC, for not championing, vociferously enough, the Kashmir dispute with India. The Saudis and the UAE showed their disapproval by asking for loan money and curtailing concessional fuel exports.

Finally, Khan’s diplomatic grand-standing as a “peace-maker” has frequently raised diplomatic eyebrows. He had earlier offered to ‘mediate’ between Saudi Arabia and Turkey and between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

During his Beijing visit, he told the Chinese that he was against “cold war” rivalry, an open allusion to the developing confrontation between the US-led West and China-Russia grouping. Expressions of such neutrality cannot go with seeking help. On his return, he offered to ‘mediate’ between Washington and Beijing. This has shown his naivety in dealing with world affairs.

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