The Crucial Moment for Imran Khan 2023

Pakistan’s tricky power politics are known. The PTI is cracking under immense pressure.

Shireen Mazari and Fayyaz Chohan, among others, have quit the party. Former prime minister Imran Khan is paying for challenging his influential sponsors.

Cut a rebellious protégé. The May 9 mayhem gave the establishment a reason to retaliate with unprecedented force.

The crackdown imprisoned thousands of PTI sympathizers.

Courts extended Imran Khan’s bail again, but the noose is tightening. The maverick leader faces his biggest political challenge.

His popularity seemed to have survived the defections. But his political prospects rely on how long—and if—the senior leadership can resist the establishment and stand behind him in his hour of reckoning.

Military tribunals may try some of the senior leadership.

Politics have altered in recent weeks. It ended the PTI-security establishment standoff. Khan’s rule is ironically reversed.

Three years before, at a banquet for the ruling coalition MPs, he arrogantly declared “we are the only choice” for the establishment. The game has shifted as he faces the same institution. Reconciliation appears impossible after May 9.

Khan may have thought street strength might intimidate the elite. He targeted the army leader. He accused him of “attempting to impede his path to reclaiming power” in a foreign TV interview. He looked carried away by his fans’ social media assumption of a top brass split.

Brinkmanship backfired. The rampant vandalism of army sites, notably memorials to deceased troops, has enraged Punjabis.

The May 9 violence has altered the heartland’s anti-establishment views, despite Khan’s narrative. The PDM’s enormous media blitz publicizing its followers’ destruction has also weakened the PTI.

It has empowered security forces to crack down on PTI supporters like never before. Human rights have been brutally violated. Senior party members must reject the violence.

After days of reluctance, Imran Khan condemned military installations strikes. The standoff hasn’t improved. The army calls May 9 a “dark chapter” in the country’s history, and the establishment won’t forget.

Khan’s escalating conflict with the military has provided the weak governing coalition some room. Its goal appears to be labeling the PTI a terrorist outfit or removing Imran Khan from the election. The minus-one formula to keep political leaders out of the arena has never worked and will not work now.

The maverick leader faces his biggest political challenge.

His combative politics have also failed Imran Khan. His changing narrative has caused credibility concerns. He now denies the American regime change scheme. After months of criticizing America, he now wants American legislators to persuade the Pakistani establishment to cease the onslaught on his party.

His ouster is no longer linked to an American plot. Khan is seeking international intervention like his opponents. His pivot may not affect his hard-core supporters, but his false narrative of regime change plot has severely hurt the democratic process.

Khan has fewer alternatives after the party purge. The party has been demoralized by the exit of second- and third-tier members and Dr. Mazari.

As the standoff with the elite continues, the party’s fractures may grow. The party cannot sustain such persecution since it relies on middle-class support.

The party’s refusal to talk to other political parties has deteriorated its situation. Khan’s decision to leave the National Assembly and prematurely dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies has hurt the party most.

Imran Khan had failed to overthrow the PDM administration using street force. He preferred street protests over parliament.

Khan attempted to destroy the building, hurting democracy and boosting the regime. He was too arrogant to realize he could only return to power democratically.

His false narrative of regime transition and public dissatisfaction with the PDM’s policies may have helped him garner broad support. He failed to construct a strong political organization on a good platform.

He battled political rivals and the establishment, which cost him. He relied on the establishment while challenging it. Khan never grasped populism’s limits.

The party’s collapse under state repression is unparalleled. The previous prime minister must decide. He may learn from his blunders.

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