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Imran Khan and the Inevitable

by Ejaz Haider

Ejaz Haider

Mobeen Ansari

Courtesy of Mobeen Ansari

The PTI chief may have played out his options.

Among those who oppose Imran Khan’s style of politics and the current strategy he is embarked on, there’s a sense that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief can’t think straight. This is not entirely correct.

Critics seem to be mixing up Khan’s objectives with the likely outcomes, some of which can be unintended and, as the fear goes, could pull in a third force and even derail the political system. This fear is not misplaced. But my point relates to the “logic” of Khan’s strategy itself, though I will argue that he might just have played out his options.

Khan’s strategy, as it began, was classic compellence, a concept given by Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, who explained the concepts of deterrence and compellence and the subtle differences between the two approaches within the framework of what he called “the diplomacy of violence,” which to him “is the art of coercion and intimidation.”

But while deterrence is the employment of a threat to discourage an adversary from starting something, compellence is an action by one actor, X, to force another, Y, to do something, invariably forcing Y to act in favor of what X wants. Put another way, while deterrence requires Y to refrain from acting in the face of a threat by X, compellence requires that Y act but only in favor of what X wants.

Deterrence involves setting the stage and then waiting. The onus for acting is on the other actor who, if deterrence has worked, will not act. X sets the stage, usually non-intrusively and non-provocatively, and then calculates that Y’s act, which has to be intrusive and hostile, will be prevented. In contrast, compellence requires X to initiate action and show irrevocable commitment to a course of action that can cease or become harmless only if Y responds and in line with X’s objectives. There are examples where stage-setting had deterrent qualities but the fine differences between deterrence and compellence are important, especially timing.

Khan has essentially run out of all options, short of spending the next year in and on his container. He must now either push the button or climb down.

Deterrence can be indefinite in its timing; compellence is not. For example: I am in a speeding car and your vehicle is in the way. The decision to avoid the collision is yours. I move; you get out of the way. The question is, when? Compellence must, therefore, have a deadline or it will not be effective. Also, the compellent threat must be put in motion for it to be credible. Equally, it must force the other actor out of the way to be effective. If it can’t and if the compellent threat is halted, the other actor has called the bluff. One can up the ante along the way, but then one reaches the point where one has to either push the button or climb down. Neither course of action is feasible. One brings punishment; the other fail-impotent.

Khan’s “Azadi March” on Islamabad was the initiation of action to compel the government to capitulate and accept his demands. The government responded with a twofold strategy: avoid a collision, but shun the maximalist part of Khan’s demands. The government has indicated that it is prepared to take action on some but not all of Khan’s demands, especially not the one that relates to folding up and announcing new elections. It has also played smart by allowing Khan to come to Islamabad, keeping him in good cheer by not using force against him or his flock and even allowing him to enter the Red Zone, which was initially termed a red line. The idea was to show, clearly, that the government is doing everything it can to avoid a showdown.

Simultaneously, the government has indicated that while it is fully prepared to address Khan’s demands for broader electoral reforms, it will not give in on demands that have more to do with Khan’s personal ambitions, i.e., resignation of the prime minister and dissolution of the assemblies.

Khan, for his part, has been steadily climbing up the escalation ladder: from no-entry to entry in the Red Zone, civil disobedience, the threat of resigning from the assemblies, and storming the Prime Minister’s House. (He had to back off from the last threat after the Army indicated that it will not allow anyone to enter any building in the Red Zone.)

Result: Khan has essentially run out of all options, short of spending the next year in and on his container. He must now either push the button or climb down. He is still trying to do both: PTI’s National Assembly members submitted their resignations yesterday but the party also indicated it is prepared to negotiate with the government. The problem with their negotiation strategy is that it still retains their maximalist position: the demand that the prime minister resign. It was okay as an opening hand but makes no sense at this stage of the game. That demand, for the government, is nonnegotiable.

Khan is now left with no viable options to mount a threat that leaves something to chance and can therefore coerce the government into accepting all his demands. The only option left with him, unless he chooses to ignore the Army’s signal and tries to forcibly occupy Prime Minister’s House, is to get to the negotiating table and force the government into effecting credible reforms that serve the larger interest of everyone, including the people of Pakistan in whose name Khan claims to have been acting. With these reforms, if the objective is not to somehow get Khan made prime minister faster than he can at this point, he and his party should be happy to have achieved something significant.

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A J (@AJWALMINTON) August 22, 2014 - 8:25 pm

Its not Imran Khan who has played his options, but the author who has cashed his opinion cheaply. Pervez Rashid is busy in distribution of Secret service Funds amongst Journalists & buying favorable opinions.
As if that was not sufficient, PM Nawaz Sharif traveled to Peshawar today for horse & mules trading. He paid the Governor to buy out MPAs.

guest August 22, 2014 - 11:44 pm

Yes focus should be on electoral reforms so that there is no chance of rigging in 2018 instead of PMship right away. show results in kpk and wait 4 years. do not jump the gun ik

Yasir Jafri August 23, 2014 - 1:09 am

Great, and insightful article. One which PTI needs to read and act accordingly on.

If the government caves into electoral reforms, and agrees to early elections then Khan has certainly achieved, a lot!

Besides this, PTI and Khan have no other end game. An elected (rightly or wrongly) PM of a nuclear nation should not, and will not step down.

Doing so will result in widespread discord and deep turmoil within the country (after all, contrary to what PTI believes, PML-N has a huge following and sympathizers as well), and it will ridicule Pakistan on a global stage.

Mohammed Abbasi August 23, 2014 - 2:06 am

So many people in Pakistan had so much hope in Imran Khan but he gathered sycophants around him and other yes men and women who rather than give him sound advice ended up kissing up to him and destroying him from within

Aamir August 23, 2014 - 6:51 am

Good analysis.

Anjum Hameed August 23, 2014 - 11:01 am

Er, you think IK has the brains to even indulge in what you describe in your article?..ALL his mind is telling him at the moment is “IwannabePM, IwannabePM, IgottabePM”..this is the sum total of what it looks like to me..

Ahmad August 23, 2014 - 12:06 pm

Govt should have opened 4 constituencies for verification. It’s that simple. He has been asking for it since last 14 months. And he made it clear that PTI would come out on streets if this demand is not met. He does not belong to the breed of politicians we are accustomed to see. He is just an idealist trying to rectify a wrong deed.

Babar August 23, 2014 - 1:03 pm

There is one thing that our “Intellectuals” in media need to understand is that this nation in plight has been looking for someone with a strong virtue of uprightness. Give the lot (Zardari, Nawaz,) what else is the choice.
Imran having a proven record of uprightness integrity and given his immense popularity fills the space of a leader as aspired by the people (honest, upright and out spoken) .
Don’t get involved in fancy theories to irrationalize his political struggle against the obvious fundamental wrongs going on in this country (rigged election, shameless nepotism of having entire families involved in running governments, political dynasties, corruption on massive scales) .

zahid August 23, 2014 - 1:16 pm

the author’s narrative is biased and reflects the thinking of nawaz sharif’s “coalition of crooks”. He has failed to say anything about IK sincere motive behind this move to free Pakistan from decades of corrupt, rusty, and family limited political system. His analysis is based on numbers game alone and not the objectives of this movement and the ugly face of NS regime

ali August 24, 2014 - 12:24 am

khan played it out well . but it must end now or lead the system to anarchy and fall to disgrace .it will be beneficial for him to back down . re think , not in a container but in his home with proper sleep i might add .


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