Imran Khan’s dilemma with the long march
As expected, the disqualification of Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference by the Election Commission of Pakistan has created a massive tempest in the already fragile political scenario of Pakistan.
With all kinds of theories and speculations being thrown in the air by the political analysts to describe the legal implications of this rather “vague and amorphous” decision, the situation seems to be moving towards more complexity and confusion for Imran Khan and his party.
The immediate dilemma for Khan is what to do with his much-touted long march after this decision: should he allow his supporters to initiate country-wide protest campaign and immediately convert it into long march, or should he keep his party’s protest to a low flame for the time being until he challenges the ECP decision in the superior courts.
The PTI protests in the major towns after the announcement of decision are very much mild in nature and the tempo of protests is very sluggish.
Imran Khan was expecting this kind of decision against him, it seems, but he did not make any proactive plan to deal with the post-decision scenario.
He is still blurred about the timing and tactical mechanics of his long march – perhaps one of the most crucial decisions of his political career that may drastically change the whole fabric of his political career.
For the last few weeks, as indicated by his frequent and ambiguous announcements with regard to the long march, Imran Khan has intensified his signature U-turns and contradictions.
Be it the decision to challenge the resignation of the PTI parliamentarians, participation in the by-elections or frequent changes in the schedule of the much-touted long march, Imran Khan is visibly unclear about his future strategy.
Probably he is waiting for some signals – or a backdoor deal offer – from the powerful quarters before announcing a concrete action plan.
Imran Khan is increasingly finding himself trapped in a muddle of his own making. The post by-elections scenario, instead of creating any kind of elation and sense of achievement, has inversely thrown Imran Khan and his core team into a vortex of disappointment and pessimism.
The newly found tinge of mellowness in his tone after the by-elections indicates that a mist of exhaustion and disillusionment has started enveloping his decision making.
So far, he has not achieved any of the key objectives of his agitation campaign ever since he took to the streets in the last week of March.
He is undoubtedly at the peak of his popularity, but the irony of the course is that he is totally helpless as far as the primary objectives of his protest campaign are concerned.
After his famous 25 March jalsa, where he displayed the so-called American cipher to create a narrative of the American involvement in his ouster from the PM House, he has been pushing hard to force immediate general election.
In the early phase of his high-octane campaign, he appeared quite confident that he would soon be able to create a tsunami to topple the “imported government.
” He tried every trick in the bag. He targeted every institution in the country; judiciary, journalists, Elections Commission, NAB and the Establishment.
He did not spare anyone in his roller coaster campaign. He has literally utilized the “terror of his popularity” to pressurize all the main pillars of the state.
The worst part of his campaign was his highly personalized attacks on all those whom he considered his detractors or critics.
He even directly challenged the establishment and tried to malign its credibility through his keyboard warriors and did not hesitate to cross the red line by becoming extremely personal towards some key members of army’s top brass.
By making a big U-turn on his party’s mass resignations, he is planning to re-enter the National Assembly and use this platform to intervene in the selection process of the new Army Chief.
Writing on the wall is clear; elections will take place on the stipulated schedule — not earlier — unless the country is pushed into anarchy — and Khan has no other choice but to wait for it.
Perhaps this is the main cause of his frustration and desperation these days. He has been left with the last option of again taking it to the streets in the form of his long march to create chaos and anarchy in the country to force the Establishment to either directly take up the charge of the country or force the government to announce early elections.
He is at the peak of his popularity and he knows that he can encash it at this moment only. With the passage of a few more months, and the expected release of more damaging audio and video leaks, he would not be able to keep his momentum intact.
We have seen in the 25 May episode that the PTI supporters, who are mostly drawn from middle and lower middle classes, are not yet accustomed to the culture of bullets and tear gas.
Being a part of chaotic and violent street agitation is quite different from attending concert-like jalsas, which are more like family galas than the political gatherings.
Imran Khan is a fantastic crowd-puller, but his audience is not used to the bitter realities of street politics and that is the weakest part of Khan’s long march.
Imran Khan’s supporters are not regular and traditional party workers, who have ever faced tear gas, lathis, bullets and jail yatras.
The second problem with the long march is of logistical nature. It would be very difficult to keep such momentum up by giving continuous moral and material support to the protestors by the PTI machinery if the situation moves towards a longer impasse.
Rana Sanaullalh, being a chronic political worker himself, is well-versed with all the tactical aspects of such protest gatherings and is fully prepared to tackle such a challenge from the PTI — presaging violent and bloody clashes during the long march.
At the same time, in case of failure of PTI to put up a good show, Imran Khan’s popularity graph will start receding.
That is why, it is expected that Imran Khan may start a full throttle long march, even to the extent of creating anarchy in the country, to force the Shehbaz regime to resign or cajole the Establishment to take charge — both scenarios are acceptable to him, it seems.
—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.