Khan’s Mid-Term Strategy to Survive, Plod Along and Succeed
By Shaheen Sehbai
The sudden national debate on an apparently settled subject – the 18th Amendment – is not without reason and logic.
In fact it is definitely a part of a grand PTI strategy for the next 12 to 18 months that fits the current situation as well as the long term plans of PM Imran Khan to beat his corrupt rivals, keep the slightly nervous Establishment on his side, and quiet, and chart the course for his next political goals.
Smartly inserted into this debate is the lucrative golden apple of changes in the NAB law, a mouth-watering prospect for the Sharif family and its depressed and downbeat supporters who have started imagining a faint ray of light at the end of Sharif family’s dark political tunnel.
But all this is a mirage in a dry hot desert.
Prime Minister Imran Khan categorically says he would never compromise with the crooks, bullies, blackmailers and thieves.
In a direct message to me, in response to a direct question about any concession to these people in return for changes to the NAB law and the 18th Amendment, Khan stated point blank: “Compromising with them means undoing my 24-year struggle.”
So what is the logic of these debates when Khan is not ready to give in anything?
A very senior Grade-22 bureaucrat, who has done many diplomatic jobs and worked as adviser to international organizations including the UN, says such debates in Pakistan are always a pre-cursor to the changes that are ultimately desired a few months down the road or are in the works.
“After several months of for and against debates, all arguments and excitement would be gone and then suddenly one day the amendments would be made, with no one to mourn,” the expert believes.
In the middle of a Corona pandemic, which has turned everything topsy turvy, issues like the 18th amendment seem frivolous but they are not. They are part of the PTI strategy, which can be summarized in these few bullet points:
– The Khan government sees a smooth and undisturbed path forward, at least for the next six to eight months. How? The next two months will pass as the nation goes through the rituals and obligations of Ramazan, Eidul Fitr, Hajj and Moharram besides the easy federal and provincial budgets.
– Why easy? The oil prices are down to their historic lows, debt repayments have been delayed for a year and may be more. International aid for Corona is flowing in. Inflation is down. Economy thus will not be an issue for a long time.
– Internationally and regionally Pakistan will have smooth sailing as everyone, near and far, is engaged in the Corona fight and all strategic plans and war games are on hold, with many armies and navies facing internal crippling blows.
– Afghanistan is shaping up well and President Trump wants the quickest exit to boost his November polls prospects because his biggest trump card, the booming economy, has been busted by Corona.
– At home, Corona will keep everyone on their toes for many more months as higher courts and judges intervene to get all on the same page to share the blame or applause.
– Aggressive pro-people initiatives like distribution of Rs 12,000 to each person, generous subsidies, tax reliefs and handouts to industry and business, health cards to everyone with an ID card, free food rations Ehsaas and Zakat funds will keep Khan’s spirits high and his supporters glued to his party.
– The Opposition will stay in the dumps with corruption cases proceeding, leaders shuttling in and out of jails or NAB interrogation chambers, as the lollipops of favourable changes in the NAB law are dangled at will.
– In such a favourable scenario, the year 2020 will come to its end and the Senate elections will be right around the corner — a milestone Imran Khan has been waiting for long.
– With majorities in KPK and Punjab and seats in Sindh and Balochistan, PTI will have a new look in the Senate by March, much more comfortable to bring about changes and amendments in laws and even the Constitution.
– The key element will remain the Establishment support especially before the Senate polls as that would be the time the Opposition will try its best to create a rift, cause a break. As our history suggests, such critical changes are always manoeuvred either after the budget or before moments that change the political power balance.
– But by that time, if Khan organizes, trains and marches on with his very sensitively timed and structured Tiger Force; his heavy free lunches to the poor and freebies to disgruntled opponents; keeping the baboos, the bankers, the builders and the bazaar happy; it would be time for a snap mid-term poll.
– The Snap Poll? Yes strategists of PTI think Khan would be at his peak and the Opposition crumbling and stumbling in the dust. He would easily regain larger majorities and form stronger governments, enabling him then to legislate at will. These at best are hopes, aspirations and wishful thinking of the PTI but all will depend on the quality and quantity of mistakes that Khan makes, from now to that point.
Chances are that an inexperienced Khan, who survived almost two years of big and small blunders, has now learnt a few political tricks of his own and his handling of allies and opponents, his firm positions on three basic No’s — No Deals, No NROs, No Compromises with the thieves — will take him through.
Critics are right when they say he has practically compromised on all these three No’s in his first two years. They, however, forget that Khan had no aces and trump cards and he came to power with the help of crutches that were remote-controlled by others.
Just to survive and learn on the job was a big achievement. And while he had to face embarrassment on many issues, he still maintained his position that he was not a part of the deals made behind his back. He has tried to explain his helplessness, to some extent convincingly.
A positive for him is that internationally he has been a super star, with the best of relations with world leaders, a very confident and presentable profile on the world stage and positions that have immensely helped the Establishment and the national security paradigm.
If he manages to get half of that success on the domestic stage, he would become formidable.
That does not mean he should become arrogant and a hothead, igniting unnecessary fights and meaningless battles. He is being accused of that at many forums, including the judicial platforms.
To cross a jungle, walkers have to bow their heads at times to avoid lowly branches and jump over broken trees.