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How and Why Imran Khan Survives?

Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government led by former cricket captain and Prime Minister Imran Khan has been on the rocks for some time now.

Multiple challenges – political, diplomatic and economic confront Mr Khan’s administration which has failed to come up with viable options at a time when there is growing angst in the public at large over mishandling of the economy and rising prices. Vehicles lined up for petrol in the cities on November 24th expecting a significant cut back on availability. The Pakistan Rupee is at an all time low. At one time it rose to Pak Rs 171.85.

Steep price hike in the price of petrol, electricity and food items is now impacting the grassroots the very support base that Imran Khan claimed to have enriched by removal of corruption.

Many in the civil society are also unhappy over handling of protests by the Tehreek Laibak Pakistan with a virtual surrender to the radical Barelvi group which has huge political ambitions. Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi was released from Kot Lakhpat jail after the withdrawal of a reference filed in the Supreme Court's federal review board regarding his detention and the removal from the Fourth Schedule — a list of proscribed individuals who are suspected of terrorism or sectarianism under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 as per the Dawn News. Earlier The interior ministry issued a notification revoking TLP’s proscribed status.

To add to these factors, Mr Khan has had a major tiff with the Army over change of the ISI Chief with Faez Hameed who was reportedly close to the Prime Minister finally giving way to the Army Chief’s nominee Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum.

Yet the PTI government seems to be surviving the gauntlet. The primary factor for continuity remains the Establishment – Army and the ISI which does not seem to want to rock PTI’s boat just yet.

What are the factors that are preventing the military to depose an incompetent Mr Khan? Here is a probable list-

Afghanistan – with state fracture in Kabul on August 15, Pakistan appears to have gain an advantage in terms of a favourable regime in the West. However, instability that has unfolded in the last 100 days has possibly made the Establishment wary of toppling Mr Khan. This would set off a chain reaction weakening Pak hand not just in Afghanistan but with the international community at large. Pakistan is also undertaking negotiations with the principal terrorist group Tehreek Taliban Pakistan with the assistance as reported of head of the Haqqani Network Sirajuddin Haqqani who is the acting Interior Minister. There will be some disconcert over a sudden change in government though only a flutter.

International Monetary Fund – Pakistan was in discussion for revival of the six billion dollar extended fund facility (EFF) any change of government in Islamabad would have impacted the prospects of release of the tranche with economy continuing to tank. The IMF has now agreed to revival of the package. Which also means that in the near term the Fund would like the economic reforms to be implemented by Mr Khan’s team led by Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen who is now likely to be elected to the Senate.

Weak Opposition. A divided opposition provides a life line to Mr Khan. While the much heralded Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) which commenced rallies in October petered out once the PPP split with the PML-N and JUI-F, the scope for a joint opposition front has weakened. The weakness was evident when the opposition despite much fanfare could not block the tranche of bills in the parliament including the one related to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Discreet calls made to allies of the ruling Party who were not in favour of the bills ostensibly by the ISI ensured that the Bills were passed. The very fact that a Joint Session was held implied that the ISI was propping the Bills but the opposition failed to read the writing on the wall.

Weakened Judiciary. A weak judiciary at this juncture and one that does not seem to be in favour of Mr Imran Khan may not be the best of times to remove him. The controversy that has arisen with two major leaks implicating former Chief Justice Saqib Nissar of having worked to issue strong judgements against the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam on the instructions of the Army, there is disquiet in the judiciary.

Which way the wind blows remains to be seen particularly with direct allegations in the Nissar case that he was following instructions from the Establishment, the military may not like to stir the plot at this stage.

While Mr Nisar rubbished allegations levelled against him by former top judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Shamim, regarding a collusion to deny bails to Nawaz and Maryam before general elections 2018, leaked audio tapes followed.

The leaked audio clips have been verified forensically by a US firm Garrett Discovery. Former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar and an unidentified man conversing of PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz's trial prior to the 2018 elections is quoted to have said in the tapes: "Let me be a little blunt about it. Unfortunately, here it is the institutions that dictate judgements. In this case, we will have to punish Mian sahab (Nawaz Sharif). [I] have been told 'we have to bring Khan sahab (Imran Khan) [into power].'" Mr Nisar has denied that he had such a conversation.

Multiple Transitions in the Establishment. Pakistan Army is also going through transition. Chief of Army staff is in the last year of his extended tenure and the contest for his succession is already on - if insider reports are to be believed. DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum has only just taken office and may not be in a position to work the wheels as effectively as say his predecessor Faiz Hameed thus Mr Imran Khan survives.

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