Imran’s final card

Editorial Board
Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

November 26 was supposed to be the PTI’s day of revolution. It’s safe to say that, while there was no storming of the Bastille, no call to march to Islamabad, Imran Khan did manage to spring a surprise at the end of his speech in Pindi. Making a public appearance in person for the first time since he survived an assassination attempt in Wazirabad, the former prime minister announced that the PTI would be ‘leaving’ all assemblies. What that means exactly is as yet unclear. Why this move comes – when the PTI had been promising much more action to its supporters – may be easier to figure out. Per some analysts, the dwindling attendance at rallies combined with the PDM managing to successfully conclude the November appointment saga could have led to this move. What is clear is that this is one shrewd political move, and throws open a number of possibilities. Importantly, the PTI has for now only ‘announced’ this decision. Going by their history, political observers are within their right to expect a U-turn. There is also the not-so-small matter of the Punjab government where Punjab CM Pervaiz Elahi may not be as gung-ho about quitting an assembly he managed to secure after months of drama. However, Elahi’s son has reiterated – via a tweet – that the PML-Q will stick to its promise to Imran to go with what he eventually decides.

For all intents and purposes, this gauntlet thrown by Imran is probably the most political move he has made in months. Instead of resorting to yet another conspiracy, he has come out with what may well be his last possible card. The threat to leave all assemblies, after already having resigned from the National Assembly, can be looked at from two angles: either it will create panic in government circles because it will be difficult to manage holding by-polls on all the provincial assembly seats or it could lead to talks between PTI and the PDM government, as has already been offered by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah. There is also protest fatigue when it comes to the PTI. Till now, the government has not been blackmailed into calling early elections. But the decision to leave assemblies may place the government in a bit of a pickle, given that they had been asking the PTI to first quit all assemblies and then demand early elections. This Imran has now done, or at least threatened to do.

One thing is clear: there will be no end to the political instability in the country any time soon. Even though the PML-N recently made a peace overture to the PTI when Rana Sanaullah invited Imran Khan for talks with Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, it seems Imran is in no mood to resolve this political deadlock till he gets the holy grail he is after: early elections. It would be surprising if the government bowed to this move, regardless of how difficult it may be to manage new elections in provinces. Imran’s decision to leave Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, along with Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, will mean little to the federal government that has continued with its governance despite the PTI’s protestations and marches and rallies. For some, it is also not that difficult to see the PTI’s move as somewhat of a face-saving gesture in the face of defeat on almost everything the party had been banking on. This move brilliantly buys Imran Khan some time, helps him prepare his constituency for an eventuality of elections after some time, say eight months as Imran has already mentioned once or twice, and also keeps the PTI relevant in an otherwise barren situation for the party.