The Pulse | Politics | South Asia

The Looming Governance Crisis in Pakistan

Has Imran Khan overplayed his hand in Pakistani politics?

Umair Jamal
The Looming Governance Crisis in Pakistan
Credit: ImranKhanOfficial via Facebook

Pakistan’s ruling party has faced serious political setbacks over the last two weeks. A number of developments that have taken place recently in the country’s domestic politics suggest that trouble is brewing for the ruling party.

The country’s opposition has made huge gains over the last few weeks, which underscore that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)’s approach to eliminate political opposition has not only failed but proved counterproductive. For instance, the way Imran Khan’s party has handled the case of former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, points towards serious divisions within the party. Moreover, the entire case of Sharif has not only made him a central figure in Pakistan’s politics again but also created another popular wave of unrest, particularly among parliamentarians from Punjab. Besides, the recent sit-in of the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), demanding Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation has further weakened the ruling party’s combative approach to deal with political opposition. JUI-F may not have been able to take Khan’s resignation but the party has certainly revived opposition hopes of forming an alliance against the ruling party.

What is further concerning for the ruling party is that the prevailing view concerning the former enjoying the support of national security establishment may not be the case anymore. The ruling party’s last year’s performance in the economic and governance arena has remained questionable at best. There have been serious efforts from the national security institutions to make PM Khan realize that politicking at the cost of governance and economic delivery may not work for the party.

Moreover, the PTI’s confrontational approach to manage domestic politics, particularly its political rivals, has not been appreciated by the institutions with deep stakes in the country’s national politics. It’s unclear how an alienated voter base in Punjab and atmosphere of unrest which people may associate with Khan’s supporters within the national security institutions helps the latter’s interests or makes it job easier. If anything, the national security institutions would like the PTI to focus on implementing its economic plans competently.

It’s possible that the departure of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan was also made possible by the intervention of the country’s national security elite, which suggests two things. One, the national security elite is not in favor of pushing the country’s opposition to a position where the letter has no other way expect taking the route of agitation. Second, the military wouldn’t be receptive of a situation which could create a political crisis in the country just because the leadership of the incumbent government has a political agenda to serve. Going forward, it’s unlikely that Pakistan’s military would stand with Khan on the issue of dealing with political opposition in a heavy handed approach.

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Khan’s government relies on a number of smaller political parties to complete the numbers needed to form a government in Pakistan. However, the grievances of Khan’s political allies have deepened over the last few months. A number of government’s policy choices, particularly the case of Sharif and Khan’s inability to take his supporters into confidence on a host of issues concerning domestic politics have caused a stir. Last week, one of the PTI’s allies in Punjab accused Khan’s party of following a policy which could cause political instability in the country. It should also be noted that in Punjab and Sindh, smaller parties helping the PTI in running the government are considered close allies of the national security establishment. Thus, a rapid onslaught of criticism on the government may also mean that the latter’s ties with the national security elite may have eroded.

In fact, if Khan continued with his current approach of rounding political leaders from the opposition or disapproving other institution’s conciliatory approach, he may end up bringing the opposition closer to the national security elite. Khan needs to understand that for now, he may be a preferred choice in the civilian domain but that could change in a matter of days and weeks.