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Imran Khan's Missed Opportunities: What Could Have Been Done Differently

(Former Prime Minister and PTI Leader Imran Khan)

The story of Khan’s ability as a politician has been entirely defined by short-term political gains without considering long-term consequences. Khan has made a number of decisions that have completely altered the game of his and his party’s politics. 

As we’ll discuss later, Khan’s decision to have 115 of his MNAs resign in federal parliament showcases the lack of desire to participate in healthy debate in a democracy. Rather than voice his concerns in Parliament head-on against his political rivals, he would much rather avoid them altogether by instead appealing to his supporters during rallies. Such a political strategy serves to alienate PTI from the other major parties in terms of political normalcy, which can be potentially beneficial to garner public support. However, it also opens a big vulnerability for PTI to be criticized by other parties to be a party of extremists. 

Khan’s First Blunder: Dissolving Provincial Assemblies

As a result of Khan’s ambition to put as much political pressure as possible, the provincial governments of Punjab and KPK - which both house well over 50% of the population  - were dissolved. Khan hoped that dissolving the provincial parliament would force the Election Commission of Pakistan within 90 days. Such a plan did not pan out for Khan as Pakistan’s parliament refused to conduct those elections and instead opted to conduct the provincial elections alongside the federal elections. 

But although Khan made the conscious decision to dissolve the provincial governments, the Chief Minister for Punjab’s provincial assembly, Pervaiz Elahi, advised against the strategy. CM Elahi argued that because elections were going to take place in October anyway, dissolving the provincial assemblies now would do nothing but give opposition parties critiques against PTI by arguing that PTI is not fit to govern at a provincial level. 

Furthermore, with Punjab having nearly 50% of the country’s total seats, Elahi wanted to ensure that PTI’s brand was strong at a provincial level in Punjab by implementing policy and continuing provincial duties. With such a strategy, the federal PDM government would receive all the criticism for inflation, while the Punjab and KPK governments would be in a unique position to support the federal PTI party in positioning against PDM.

Khan’s Second Blunder: Resignations in the Federal Assembly 

In January of 2023, Khan made the call to resign 115 of his MNAs in the federal assembly as a way to pressure the newly formed PDM government on their decision to oust PTI. Unfortunately for Khan, such political pressure failed as PDM simply bided their time as a counterstrategy. 

From PDM's perspective, only they form the leverage needed to pass policy in the assembly and unfortunately for PTI, having 115 fewer seats in parliament only gives them a weaker voice in both the federal policy process and opposition. 

Rather than pressuring with resignations, Khan should have instead used his 155 seats to voice strong opposition within the federal assembly alongside his MNAs. This way Khan would’ve had an opposition strategy both inside and outside Parliament. Khan would’ve had the opposition strength of having the largest number of seats in Parliament and a strong national voice with rallies and peaceful protests. 

Under such a reality, PTI would have had two majority provincial governments and strong federal opposition. Khan would’ve been a force to be reckoned with against any party in Pakistan. 

However, Khan took the rash decision to dissolve his two provincial governments and issue the resignation of 115 MNAs. The result is that Khan has lost all of his leverage against Pakistan’s current political establishment. 

Khan’s Third Blunder: Attacking the Army 

But Khan didn’t just abandon his political leverage, he went ahead and attacked the army as well. Khan claimed that the army was plotting to assassinate him and that the army worked with the US to overthrow his government. Khan also spread conspiracy theories about a figure within the army called “dirty Harry”, a person who Khan claimed was out to personally attack and remove Khan from political relevancy. 

All this conspiracy pandering caused the army to lose confidence in Khan, and while there were still some supporters within the army at that time. After the protests of May 9, even those army supporters lost confidence in Khan fearing that Khan’s anti-army rhetoric had resulted in a physical altercation with the army. During the protests, Khan chose to not condemn the rioters and instead threatened the army with more violent protests if Khan were to be arrested again. 

May 9th was the turning point for PTI, a point at which PTI will have a difficult time resolving with the army. The army has arrested thousands of protestors, and they will ensure that each of these protestors receives retribution to make sure May 9th never occurs again. As a response, Khan must fully condemn the May 9th protests while at the same time amend ties with the army if he ever wishes to become Prime Minister again. 

An Intelligent PTI Opposition

The alternate reality I’ve pictured for Khan looks to be a lot less toxic while at the same time more politically effective. 

A strong opposition in the federal and provincial assemblies combined with rallies and peaceful protests across the nation; coupled with setting himself positively with the army to support his return would’ve put PTI in a winning position come the October elections

But instead, Khan’s rash decisions caused the loss of his leverage against the political establishment and further lost any support of the army because of his anti-army rhetoric. Now, Khan’s path to becoming Prime Minister has become all but difficult.

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