How Imran Khan lost Pakistan, but set the pitch for his second innings

Imran Khan lost a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Sunday as the Opposition secured 174 votes. Here's how his last-ball game could actually set the pitch for his second innings as the Pakistan prime minister.

Imran Khan’s tactics have placed him in the public as a victim. (AP)

The first Pakistani prime minister to lose in a no-trust vote, Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi is a fortune teller. The word in Pakistan is that Bushra Bibi linked Imran Khan’s prime ministerial fortune four years ago to a relatively lesser-known serial party hopper, Usman Buzdar. Imran Khan appointed Usman Buzdar as Punjab chief minister after his 2018 election victory.

In his defence, Imran Khan claimed Usman Buzdar was so poor that he was the only provincial legislator with no electricity in his home. It turned out to be untrue. Bushra Bibi apparently convinced Imran Khan that he would be the prime minister of Pakistan for as long as Usman Buzdar remained the Punjab chief minister.

While Imran Khan is widely perceived as a ‘personally honest’ politician in the highly corrupt world of Pakistan politics, Usman Buzdar has built a reputation of taking money for doing whatever he did in whichever capacity (including that of the CM). He is accused of taking bribes even for transfers and postings while holding the chief minister's post.

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Usman Buzdar had a frontwoman, who reportedly finalised all his deals Farah Khan, the ‘closest’ friend of Bushra Bibi, Imran Khan’s third wife. Farah Khan’s personal assets reportedly grew from Pakistani Rs 231 million to Pakistani Rs 971 million during Imran Khan's prime ministerial stint.

Farah Khan's tax filing was reportedly nil in 2018, the year Imran Khan became Pakistan’s PM but in 2019, her assets grew twice the size courtesy Usman Buzdar as the Punjab CM. Fearing arrest, she reportedly fled Pakistan on the day Imran Khan dissolved the National Assembly a decision later reversed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Facing relentless corruption charges, Usman Buzdar resigned as the Punjab CM the day the National Assembly took up the no-trust motion against Imran Khan in late March. Close confidantes of Imran Khan had pressured him into relieving Usman Buzdar.

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But proving the rumour mill right, Imran Khan too lost his prime ministerial chair within days of Usman Buzdar’s removal. Bushra Bibi might actually have predicted Imran Khan’s fortune as Pakistan PM correctly.

Imran Khan, an Oxford-educated politician in Pakistan, may have to work hard to cast off the image of a superstitious prime minister in a country struggling to embrace modernity based on science.

But there is another tangle that seemingly trapped Imran Khan. It is the internal rivalry between Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Lt General Faiz Hameed, the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief.

Reports from Pakistan suggest that Faiz Hameed grew close to Imran Khan and eyed the top military post in Pakistan. General Bajwa is retiring later this year. Imran Khan was striving to declare his independence of the military. He was being seen as the military’s choice in the 2018 parliamentary election. General Bajwa too was not happy with the Imran Khan government's progress on development front.

In October-November 2021, Imran Khan and General Bajwa clashed over Faiz Hameed’s reappointment as the ISI chief. Imran Khan had refused to sign the paper. Faiz Hameed was later appointed as the commander of the Peshawar Corps.

General Bajwa’s supporters and Imran Khan’s opponents, including those in his own party, have accused Imran Khan of colluding with Faiz Hameed to remove the Pakistan Army chief. A similar action by Nawaz Sharif in 1998 did not go well for him as next army chief Pervez Musharraf deposed him in a military coup in 1999.

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This time around, Imran Khan lost support in his own political coalition as the Pakistan Army played “neutral” meaning it did not back the Imran Khan government. This was good enough ammunition for the Opposition to bay for Imran Khan’s political blood.

Imran Khan’s declared heroic of staying in the game till “the last ball” turned out to be a disaster due to lower-order collapse in his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, his ruling coalition, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court.

Convinced about Bushra Bibi’s predictions, Imran Khan looked more as an Opposition leader during his long-drawn fight against the no-trust motion. He was building narrative of foreign conspiracy hatched by the US over his stand on the Russia-Ukraine war. He flashed a letter in his public rally to back his claim. The Pakistan Army called it a bogus attempt.

But Imran Khan’s tactics have placed him in the public as a victim. He tried to paint his image, with a fresh brush, as a fighter who could take on the powerful military establishment of Pakistan. He also tried to show a different picture of the Pakistan Army that it succumbed to the American pressure.

Imran Khan’s last-ball game could actually set the pitch for his second innings as the Pakistan prime minister. The next parliamentary election is due in 2023. Imran Khan may take heart from outpourings of thousands of supporters in many Pakistani cities Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and others to protest his ouster.

Imran Khan’s supporters, interestingly, picked a slogan from Indian politics chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief) to castigate the Pakistan Army in street protests. Imran Khan might have actually prepped a Naya Pakistan his slogan for the 2018 election.