Regime on the rocks

Imran Khan’s new government faces challenges on many fronts but, writes Rahimullah Yusufzai, the opposition is far from united

Not yet three months into his time in office,Prime Minister Imran Khan has encountered one crisis after another.
It is often said that his government didnot even get its honeymoon period, during which both the opposition parties and the common people normally wait for the new administration to settle into the job, take stock of the situation and formulate policies.

Tough political, economic, security and diplomatic challenges face the new prime minister, who has never held any public office in the past. He does seem to have a grasp of the issues confronting Pakistan, but the need for smart and sincere prime ministerialadvisors has perhaps never been so high.

Economic problems pose the most serious challenge. The government’s decision in September to hike taxes and duties and cut development programme funds as part of a ‘mini-budget’ to shore up the economy has affected and angeredthe majority of the population, as it led to an increase in the prices of everyday items. Those political parties that lost the recent election are exploiting the situation, reminding the people that they made a mistake by voting Imran Khan into power.

The refusal of some of the defeated political parties to accept the election results and their consequent efforts to create a crisis is also a major cause of concern for the ruling party. Violent incidents have continued in the country, despite the significant drop in the number of attacks targeting the security and law-enforcement forces and pro-government people.

In matters of foreign policy, Pakistan’s relations with the US, India and Afghanistan havenot improved, even though, in his speeches after winning the July 25 general election, Imran Khan extended the hand of friendship to them and pledged to resolve all outstanding disputes through the process of dialogue.

Attacks in the Indian administered state of Jammu & Kashmir are a common occurrence

The most keenly awaited was the peace dialogue with India. New Delhi initially agreed that its foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, would meet her Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly session in New York in September. However, Delhi backed out of its commitment, citing terrorist attacks by Pakistan-backed militants in Jammu & Kashmir and the issuance of postal stamps by Pakistan glorifying the slain Kashmiri fighter, Burhan Wani. Attacks in the Indian-administered state of Jammu & Kashmir are a common occurrence and the postage stamps, which depicted the suffering of Kashmiri people, were issued some months ago. Yet this development shouldnot come as a surprise, given the sensitivity and uncertainty of the relationship between the two neighbouring countries.

The Imran Khan-headed coalition government also suffered losses in the by-elections held on October 14 for 36 seats in the National Assembly and the provincial assembly. Opposition parties claimed this showed the public’s lack of faith in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government only two months after it came to power. Although the PTI did win several seats and even snatched a few from other parties, its overall electoral performance waspoor and raised questions about its policies.
If all this wasn’t enough, Khan is now facing the prospect of a determined challenge from disparate opposition parties, which have been holding meetings to agree on a date and agenda for an All Parties Conference to put pressure on the government. The idea is to form a grand opposition alliance to give the government a tough time and force it to accept some of their demands.

Most opposition parties have yet to wholeheartedly accept the results of the general election. Certain politicians continue to describe Imran Khan as the ‘select’ prime minister, instead of one who was properly elected. In their view, the powerful military and the Election Commission of Pakistan enabled the PTI to win at the polls so that cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan could become prime minister.These politicians have been alleging that their mandate was stolen and are demanding the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner, retired Justice Mohammad Raza Khan, for his failure to conduct credible elections,

The opposition still cannot come to terms with the fact that Imran Khan reached power after struggling for 22 long years in politics. Also, it is quite obvious that the majority of Pakistan’s youth, particularly the educated ones, support him. The so-called ‘Youthias’– the name given to Khan’s young followers – are vocal, emotional, uncompromising and difficult to please. In fact, senior PTI leaders are sometimes found complaining that their youthful workers end up creating problems for the party and the government. However, they concede that the young PTI activists keep checks on the working of the party leadership, including ministers, advisors and lawmakers.

VISIBLE ROLE: Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the JUI-F
VISIBLE ROLE: Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the JUI-F

The most visible role in uniting the opposition parties on one platform is being played by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the JUI-F and the five-party alliance of Islamic parties, MMA. His party and alliance badly lost the election, winning only a few assembly seats. Maulana was defeated in both National Assembly seats by little known PTI candidates andhe now no longersits in parliament. The government has also started withdrawing some of the privileges he enjoyed over the past several years as a coalition partner of both the PPP, headed by the Bhuttos and Zardaris, and the PML-N, run by brothers Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif.

Khan’s young followers, the so-called ‘Youthias’, are vocal and difficult to please

While Maulana Fazlur Rehman has managed to convince most opposition leaders to attend the proposed meeting aimed at forming a grand anti-PTI alliance, deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is still reluctant to come. He hasnot fully resumed his political activities after the death of his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, as it was a huge shock for him. She breathed her last in London where she was under treatment at a time when Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were in prison in Pakistan, following their conviction on corruption charges. Though the father and daughter were later released on bail and are now home at their Raiwind residence near Lahore, they arenot yet out of the woods, as the court cases against them are continuing and acquittal looks unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The mistrust between former President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif could also become a hurdle in bringing all the opposition parties together. Their relations have seldom been cordial and the only common ground for the two presently is their opposition to Imran Khan. However, Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as leaders of the PPP, have a stake in the existing dispensation as their party rules in Sindh province. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, on the other hand, is no longer in power at the centre or in any province, and it would not lose anything if parliament is dissolved or the government is sent packing.

Nevertheless, there is no real support among the people at this stage for fresh elections. Most voters are still willing to wait and give the PTI a chance to fulfil its election campaign promises. As for the PTI supporters, their party was elected for five years and its government should be judged after completing its term, not on the whims of the opposition parties.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Pakistani journalist and Afghanistan expert. He was the first and last reporter to interview Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. His achievements have been acknowledged by several prestigious awards, including Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Sitara-e-Imtiaz

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