Clock is ticking for Imran Khan and the establishment

(Asian Times) by IMAD ZAFAR

The game on the political chessboard has entered a new phase as a perception has been created that after using Asif Ali Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the country’s invisible forces are now getting rid of him as well.

There is no doubt that Zardari has been involved in the massive corruption in the province of Sindh as his party has ruled the province for the last 10 years, so the way he has been given ample time to roam freely says a lot about the accountability drive. This accountability drive is particularly focused on eliminating ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and creating new allies to rule the country.

Zardari, along with his son Bilawal Bhutto and Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah, is accused of laundering billions of rupees and corrupt practices by a joint investigation team (JIT). The JIT report is very solid and unlike Sharif’s case where the JIT and other investigation institutions were not able to find any evidence, this report on Zardari establishes his connection with fake accounts used for laundering money.

The untouchable real estate tycoon Malik Riaz is also included in the report and he is accused of lending support to Zardari in money laundering through fake accounts and buying hundreds of acres of government land in Sindh by bribing the ruling party and getting the land for a cheap price. Riaz is considered untouchable in Pakistan as he enjoys connections with both the political and military elite. So his name in the JIT means Zardari will surely survive this onslaught as Riaz, if convicted, can open a new Pandora’s box and name the people from the military establishment and judiciary who have been benefitting from his luxurious housing society Bahria Town.

Riaz also sponsored the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) campaign in the general elections so it will be hard for the authorities to bring him to justice. As far as Zardari is concerned, he has been inept and lacks the ability to understand the dynamics of the political chessboard. He lent his support to the establishment in toppling the provincial government of the PML-N in Balochistan, and then he aligned with both PTI and the establishment to elect the establishment’s man, Sadiq Sanjrani, as the chairman of the Senate. Perhaps Zardari thought that he had done enough for the establishment and he would be given a smooth sailing in the future. However, it did not happen and he is facing trial now.

On the other hand, the Imran Khan-led PTI is happy with the proceedings as the cases on Zardari and the retaliation from him and his party have actually diverted the attention of the masses and the media from the ongoing crisis of governance. Right now, Pakistan is facing an energy crisis as there is a shortage of gas during the country’s chilly winters for both household and business consumers.

The economy is rapidly moving towards an irreversible loss and the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) is not ready to bail out Pakistan without strict terms and conditions that include the further devaluation of the rupee against the US dollar and a hike in electricity and petroleum prices. This means even an IMF bailout package will not help Khan’s government counter price hikes and inflation.

So Khan and the establishment will somehow keep this so-called accountability drive going as it will spin the actual problems, and the masses and the media will only talk about the victimization of the opposition. It as an old trick of establishments around the world to divert attention from the real problems. The question is, will this trick keep Khan and his benefactors ticking on the power chess board?

After all, even the bailout package from the IMF and the loans from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will not prove helpful in reducing inflation and price hikes. The worse the inflation and price hikes are, the more agitated the masses will become. Right now, life for the common man in Pakistan is already miserable due to the rising prices of electricity, gas, and grocery items, which have hit the poor and lower middle class hardest.

While Khan is insisting that it will take some time to correct the economy, he is ignoring the fact that the current economic turmoil is making life more and more difficult for the common man, and the mere rhetoric of fixing things and sending corrupt politicians to prison will not feed empty stomachs, nor is it going to put money in the pockets of the poor and lower middle class. So it will not work for Khan as his approach of keeping the masses distracted with fictional tales of corruption will not reduce the burden of debt on Pakistan, nor it will increase the foreign exchange reserves.

For the time being, Zardari will probably be the focus of attention now as his trial will give the impression that the establishment and Khan are not marginalizing Sharif’s PML-N but helping them gain some time as all eyes will be on the case of Zardari and the fate of his provincial government in Sindh. However, this is a fixed match where Zardari will not be jailed, nor will Riaz be punished. After all, a fragile economy and a government kept alive by a ventilator provided by the establishment cannot afford political turmoil.

By sending Zardari to jail or by toppling his government in the Sindh, the PTI will only dig its own grave, and if Khan does not know this, his benefactors surely understand it better. Had this not been the case, the JIT report’s solid proof was enough to send both Zardari and Riaz to jail after the very first hearing in the Supreme Court, but of course it did not happen as the longer the drama regarding Zardari continues, the more the time PTI and the establishment have to somehow change their weak positions on the power chessboard.

The economic situation always determines the winner and the way things are moving, it is not hard to predict that sooner or later both Khan and the establishment will be put on the back foot, or else in a year or two, they will face a massive public agitation movement. The clock is ticking and both Khan and the establishment are running out of time as Pakistan is on the verge of economic and political turmoil. Perhaps the fixed match between Khan, his benefactors and the Zardari-led PPP will only buy them the time, but it will not help in solving the country’s economic and political problems.

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