Imran Khan’s “Political Martyrdom” Has Unleashed Unprecedented Socio-Political Forces
Never before has a genuinely grassroots political movement successfully proven that its own interpretation of patriotism, sovereignty, and national security can appeal to such a broad range of Pakistanis despite being different from The Establishment’s. Imran Khan’s “political martyrdom” has therefore unleashed truly unprecedented socio-political forces within Pakistan that seemingly caught The Establishment off guard and might thus prompt negotiations over a “new social contract”.
The US-orchestrated regime change against former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, which succeeded via the manipulation of opposition forces and exploitation of the constitutional process through so-called “lawfare”, was undertaken against him as punishment for his independent foreign policy. The country’s military-intelligence structures, collectively known as “The Establishment” in Pakistani parlance, didn’t intervene to stop this due to the speculative differences in outlook between its two primary schools of thought: pro-US and multipolar. Some even suspect that adherents of the first-mentioned at the very least “passively facilitated” this sequence of events and might have even directly played a role in bringing everything about, but that’s purely speculation until proven otherwise.
Be that as it may, there’s no denying that the scandalous ouster of former Prime Minister Khan is perceived by many Pakistanis as the “political martyrdom” of a truly uncorrupt and religiously pious leader who sincerely tried his best to restore respect to his proud nation. There’s also the popular perception among many that the rule of law failed to be impartially applied throughout the course of the regime change against him, which is fueling widespread disillusionment with the country’s institutions. To be absolutely clear, however, those who rallied nationwide against what their former leader described as the “imported government” that was just imposed upon them by the US aren’t protesting their institutions but are demonstrating in support of their integrity.
These patriots respect the irreplaceable role that The Establishment plays in ensuring their country’s existential interests amidst the extremely challenging regional environment in which Pakistan found itself after independence. They also truly want to see their institutions working effectively, impartially, and without any corrupt influences within them, not to mention foreign ones that endanger their national security. Pakistan has made enormous advances in improving its national model of democracy in recent years but everything still obviously remains imperfect as proven by how polarizing the recent sequence of events has been. Those who spilled out into the streets Sunday evening were driven by their patriotic desire to send a powerful appeal to The Establishment to save Pakistan.
Interestingly, the former Prime Minister’s opponents perceived him and his PTI party as “selected” by The Establishment and not genuinely elected by the people. Their interpretation of his rise to power was that those institutions played a direct role in events in order to channel his party’s impressive protest potential in a positive direction that could facilitate Pakistan’s attempts to incorporate itself into the emerging Multipolar World Order. The PTI’s proto-multipolar vision eventually matured into a bonafide one during the former premier’s time in office and resulted in the promulgation of its truly multipolar National Security Policy in January, among other such tangible achievements including the rapid rapprochement with Russia that occurred over the past few years and was opposed by the US.
The suspected collusion between The Establishment and the former Prime Minister’s PTI was interpreted by his opponents as representing a so-called “hybrid regime” as they described it, one which didn’t truly result in their hoped-for supremacy of the civilian government over the state after decades of policymaking being dominated by military-intelligence institutions. These perceptions were manipulated to organize growing opposition to the former leader that coalesced into the so-called “Pakistan Democratic Movement” (PDM) umbrella movement that coordinated activities between two of the country’s leading parties, PMLN and PPP, and other myriad smaller ones although it’s since fractured to an extent. Nevertheless, the core for another politically disruptive force was created.
The irony of the PDM and its partners, both prior and existing, is that their anti-Establishment rhetoric ultimately masked their own suspected collusion with the pro-US school of thought from this institution that led to the former premier’s ouster last weekend. One interpretation of events is that influential members of The Establishment though it better to “co-opt” the PDM, PMLN, and PPP since they were poised to become even more politically disruptive than PTI was prior to its entrance into power in order to influence these movements and thus neutralize whatever threat they could pose to national security if they fell under more suspected US influence. In other words, The Establishment could have decided to swap its alleged patronage of the PTI with the PDM/PMLN/PPP.
This speculation isn’t unreasonable, though it of course can’t be proven and is only being shared to suggest an admittedly imperfect and incomplete model for interpreting the complex and very opaque sequence of events that just transpired. PTI and especially Imran Khan might have proven too independent for The Establishment to influence, not to mention control, especially if his bonafide multipolar movement ended up having genuine sympathizers within that institution who can be described as adherents to its multipolar school of thought. While The Establishment as a whole might have succeeded in ensuring that its protest potential didn’t spiral out of control and inadvertently threaten national interests, its pro-US school of thought didn’t succeed in controlling its foreign policy.
It’s inexplicable that adherents of this worldview would have approved of the former Prime Minister’s brave refusal to host US bases following America’s chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan last August as well as the rapid rapprochement with Russia that he oversaw across the past few years. The very fact that both happened strongly suggests the existence of a separate school of thought, the multipolar one, whose rise to policymaking predominance within The Establishment paralleled the PTI’s rise to power over the civilian government. The synchronization between The Establishment’s multipolar school and the then-ruling multipolar PTI resulted in those two major foreign policy shifts that defied Pakistan’s political traditions and went against the worldview of The Establishment’s pro-US school of thought.
The response to these developments was multifaceted: organic opposition coalesced around the PDM and its partners (both prior and present); the US took note of this and plotted to exploit it through “lawfare” (which they ultimately did once the former premier crossed America’s red line by visiting Moscow and refusing to publicly condemn its ongoing special military operation in Ukraine); and the pro-US school of thought within The Establishment saw an opportunity to return to policymaking predominance in pursuit of their attempt to implement what they sincerely regard as their patriotic and well-intended worldview. Just like The Establishment as a whole was suspected of supporting the PTI’s rise to power, so too might the pro-US elements within it have at least “passively facilitated” its ouster.
In essence, this speculative interpretation of events suggests that the true opposition party at the time (PTI) was swapped out for a faux/controlled opposition umbrella movement (PDM/PMLN/PPP) since the latter might have been assessed to potentially have a much more disruptive protest potential than PTI did prior to it entering into power, especially if this umbrella movement was either infiltrated to an extent by the US or at the very least functioning as its “useful idiots” in carrying out regime change. The unintended consequence of this “swap”, however, is that the true opposition party is now unleashed into the streets and demonstrating nationwide in support of the former premier and against what they regard as their “imported government” in some of the largest protests that Pakistan has ever seen.
Because of their patriotism, there’s no credible chance that the PTI will come under foreign influence like its opponents are accused of doing nor any real likelihood that its politically conscious members will recklessly endanger national security through their demonstrations or rhetoric. Sunday’s nationwide rallies were entirely peaceful and didn’t see anyone turning against The Establishment. To the contrary, participants protested in support of The Establishment’s integrity and that of all other national institutions such as the Supreme Court. They’re sincerely concerned that some elements within them might be compromised, but they don’t question the irreplaceable role that those structures play in their society and especially The Establishment’s in ensuring Pakistan’s objective national interests.
These messages and intentions are crucial to keep in mind since they contrast with the opposition umbrella movement that regularly spews inflammatory rhetoric against The Establishment and other national institutions. PTI has always been a patriotic movement that unwaveringly supports Pakistan’s objective national interests. The impressive political consciousness of its members means that they’re unlikely to resort to irresponsible rhetoric against the backbone of their country, The Establishment and other national institutions, like the opposition umbrella movement has cheaply done over the years to advance their short-sighted and purely self-interested political objective to return to power by manipulating naïve and easily influenced members of society (no matter how well-intended they are).
The state of affairs is such that Imran Khan’s “political martyrdom” has unleashed unpredictable political forces throughout Pakistan. Average folks throughout the country and across its many ethno-regional groups have united in support of their deposed premier and in opposition to what they truly believe is their “imported government” that was just imposed upon them by the US. PTI swiftly returned to its protest movement origins but this time incorporated a multipolar message against foreign meddling and in support of state sovereignty that appeals to the people’s patriotic sentiments. This challenges the monopoly that The Establishment as a whole used to have over these concepts prior to the former premier’s ouster and proves that PTI is no longer under its control or influence (if it ever was, that is).
That’s not whatsoever at all to imply that the PTI is “anti-Establishment” like the opposition umbrella movement is (or at least claimed to be prior to allegedly colluding with members of its pro-US school of thought as was earlier speculated in this piece), but just to point out the uniqueness of the present political moment whereby the most powerful political force in the country has been unleashed by none other than The Establishment itself in response to that institution at the very least not intervening in support of Prime Minister Khan following his passionate accusations of a US regime change against him. The opposition umbrella movement might have the potential to be more disruptive in a negative sense, but PTI is proving that its own form of political disruption can be leveraged for positive ends like unity.
From a strategic standpoint, it’s disadvantageous to The Establishment’s objective interests as a whole to have this powerful protest movement continue to disrupt the political system, especially after breaking that institution’s hitherto monopoly on patriotic, pro-sovereignty, and national security messaging. Once again, so as not to be misunderstood, this doesn’t at all imply that The Establishment as a whole isn’t sincerely patriotic, in support of state sovereignty, or that it neglects national security. All that’s being pointed out is that this is the first time in Pakistani history that a genuinely grassroots movement has proven to have nationwide appeal and the power to rally average people across the country and its many ethno-regional lines in support of its own interpretation of these concepts.
This political dynamic is unprecedented and poses a predicament for The Establishment’s interests, which to remind the reader, is speculated to be comprised of two distinct schools of thought that presumably differ over the issue of the former premier’s ouster but which as a whole will remain publicly united in accordance with Pakistan’s objective national security interests. It’s unlikely that this institution feels comfortable with the consequences of PTI proving that its independent interpretation of patriotic, pro-sovereignty, and national security messaging is capable of spontaneously rallying such an impressively diverse segment of the population across the country. With this in mind, The Establishment might understandably seek to influence this process in order to regain control of the strategic dynamics.
It certainly seems as though some members within this institution, presumably from the pro-US school of thought, miscalculated the consequences of unleashing PTI into the streets after completely underestimating its genuinely grassroots appeal and that of its newfound messaging that challenges The Establishment’s hitherto monopoly on such sensitive concepts. This party isn’t just a truly multipolar one, but also arguably becoming a “revolutionary” force in the sense that it’s proven itself capable of spontaneously rallying such a diverse group of its compatriots against what they consider their “imported government”. The best-case scenario for restoring The Establishment’s influence over events is to encourage its new umbrella opposition movement partners to hold early elections.
These same partners, however, are generally anti-Establishment and might defy these requests from their speculative patrons. They might feel emboldened after being swept back into power through the US’ “lawfare” coup against the former premier that some suspect was at the very least “passively facilitated” by elements of The Establishment. It wouldn’t be surprising if they consider that institution’s informal tactical alliance with them as a marriage of convenience that was only brought about by The Establishment fearing their disruptive protest potential as was earlier explained. Believing that the US is behind them and can thus ensure their continued political interests through sympathetic members of this institution (the pro-US school of thought), they might defy any request that threatens their power.
After all, they were against the holding of early elections that was discussed prior to former Prime Minister Khan’s removal from office. The PTI claims that this is because they know that they’re genuinely unpopular, especially for the role that they played in the US’ latest regime change operation, and therefore expect to lose if a truly free and fair vote was held. Should that be the case, then it’s unlikely that this umbrella opposition movement would agree to The Establishment’s potential request to hold early elections as a means for this institution to reassert some influence over the unpredictable and truly unprecedented political dynamics that it’s inadvertently responsible for causing after unleashing PTI back into the streets by at the very least not intervening to stop this regime change.
As the truly responsible stakeholders in their state that they’ve historically proven themselves without a doubt to be, it’s increasingly becoming clear that The Establishment might soon be compelled to do something to regain control of the strategic dynamics that have fundamentally shifted since the former premier’s ouster. Never before has a genuinely grassroots political movement successfully proven that its own interpretation of patriotism, sovereignty, and national security can appeal to such a broad range of Pakistanis despite being different from The Establishment’s. Imran Khan’s “political martyrdom” has therefore unleashed truly unprecedented socio-political forces within Pakistan that seemingly caught The Establishment off guard and might thus prompt negotiations over a “new social contract”.