Grandiose rhetoric

IMRAN KHAN appears to be a man without a plan, and a very angry one at that — even recklessly so, making increasingly apocalyptic statements as time goes on. The six-day ultimatum he gave the PML-N-led government to call early elections when bringing his Azadi March to a premature end has come and gone, but the announcement of the second long march he had threatened if his demand was not met is nowhere in sight.

Indeed, it seemed PTI was playing for time by filing a petition in the Supreme Court for protection from ‘state torture’, which however the court returned yesterday, deeming it had already decided the issue in an earlier, similar petition. The court has already indicated its intention to find out why the march participants reached D-Chowk in violation of its directives and has sought intelligence reports to this end.

But Mr Khan has also been granted transitory bail by the Peshawar High Court; that could, by preventing his arrest upon returning to Islamabad, expedite his next move. While the ousted premier’s approach to the judiciary has of late at least been somewhat circumspect, his appeals to the powers that be have become more provocative than ever.

It is fair to say that the establishment’s repeated involvement in political engineering is thoroughly exposed by now. No fig leaf, no niceties remain for plausible deniability. Indeed, so advantageous has this blurring of institutional boundaries been for the PTI in recent years that after being ousted from the centre, the party has twisted ‘neutrality’ into a pejorative, where the very stance of being ‘neutral’ is posited as a dereliction of duty.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Mr Khan went a step further and painted a doomsday scenario in which Pakistan was on the brink of “self-destruction”. If the establishment did not “take the right decisions”, he said, the country would experience economic collapse and forced denuclearisation, and break up into three parts.

The former prime minister also conceded he did not have full power in running the country, indicating that the actual power centre lay elsewhere and “everyone knows where that is”. He added: “A system only works when responsibility and authority are in one place.” Indeed, long before he became prime minister, Mr Khan spoke earnestly about how governments that come to power riding the coat-tails of the establishment are deeply compromised and inherently weak.

He has now seen that play out up close and personal. However, amidst his grandiose rhetoric of good versus evil and his angst at being ‘out of favour’, does Mr Khan have the capacity to understand that playing his role in strengthening parliamentary democracy, instead of repeatedly looking towards unelected forces, is in the interest of the PTI? There is only one winner in the way politics is presently played in Pakistan — and it is not the civilian leadership.

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