Frank Underwood, the main protagonist from the famous Netflix series House Of Cards, remarked, “What a martyr craves more than anything is a sword to fall on. So you sharpen the blade, hold it at just the right angle, and then, 3, 2, 1…” This political series captured the imagination of millions of viewers from across the globe with its ruthless lexicon of political ambition.
If one were to sum up the current happenings in Pakistan after an assassination bid on Ex-Prime minister Imran Khan, it would be that of a house of cards unfolding in reality, with Imran Khan all along playing the role of martyr and the establishment, the sword. No matter where the sword turned, Imran managed to stick his neck in that direction.
Since his ouster, Imran initially claimed to be the martyr of a foreign conspiracy against him. As Shahbaz Sharif reigned, his cry against the nexus between corrupt politicians and the army establishment grew shriller. No matter what the establishment tried to do to counter Imran’s rhetoric, he found ways to outsmart and outmanoeuvre them. As his image of being a martyr boosted with each episode of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres, Imran dealt the political cards with strong hands.
Imran’s plot worked, as he trapped the establishment in their defensive response. So fractious became the internal conditions of Pakistan that for the first time in the country’s history, DG-ISI Lt Gen. Naveed Anjum had to hold a press conference to defend the establishment and distance themselves from the political circus that was unfolding within. When the Lt. General declared that the army had decided to be an apolitical organization, Imran kicked up the political storm by turning the very argument on its head. He blamed the army for playing politics and colluding with corrupt political forces.
It provided Imran with the much-needed ammunition to come out guns blazing against the establishment. As a result, Imran’s image became that of being the harbinger of change in Pakistan. His image swelled of being the man who took the establishment head-on, a fight proclaimed by him as Good vs Evil.
Just as the Pakistani establishment, especially the Army, has a history of creating good evils among the bad ones, like the good Taliban vs the bad Taliban analogy they sold to Americans a decade ago to further their agenda in Afghanistan, Imran Khan used the same leaf from the establishment textbook and applied it squarely upon them.
While criticizing the DG-ISI and terming him Dirty Harry (the Evil General), he drew parallels by declaring COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa as a Good General who is being misled by the Evil General.
His attempt to divide the ranks and file of the Army was a ploy to further weaken the army narrative against him. Thus, the stage was set for an electrifying showdown between him and the establishment. As the drama started unfolding with him marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds in tow, the bid on his life brought out the climax that is now unfolding.
A day after getting shot, Imran Khan called a press conference to address the nation. Sitting in a wheelchair with his legs wrapped around in plaster and bandages, he once again proclaimed himself to be a martyr with a mission on a holy cause to root out political evil.
Blaming Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, his interior minister Rana Sanaullah and ISI’s Major General Faisal Naseer for the failed plot, Imran has taken the last stand in his fight for retaining power. Any chance of a negotiated settlement between the two warring factions has reached a point of near no return as both sides have upped the ante against each other.
The truth behind the attack on Imran Khan is as murky as the politics of Pakistan itself, and the reality will never surface. The political history of Pakistan is scarred with all kinds of dystopian views from the governments and the people who ran it.
The same holds for the plot Imran Khan spun by using the same dystopia to return to power. His tirade against the establishment has turned out to be so strong that it has pushed the Pakistani establishment towards the wall and brought Pakistan towards anarchy and violence.
His renewed call to his supporters for continued protests against the establishment until he hits back on the streets of Pakistan is an indicator that Pakistan is headed towards serious political collateral damage.
With skyrocketing inflation, a stagnant economy and an unstable political system, Pakistan is plummeting further into an abyss of uncertainty. The unrelenting posturing from both sides can push Pakistan back into the lap of military dictatorship. In such an eventuality, the House of Cards Imran Khan has built till now with strong hands can end up being demolished by the strong counterwinds of the establishment. Imran’s last stand aimed at bending the establishment’s knees might end up bringing him down onto his knees.
Raja Muneeb is a freelance columnist
Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own