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The Big Question

by Newsweek Pakistan
Farooq Naeem—AFP

Farooq Naeem—AFP

Is Imran Khan—once again—hoping the military will intervene to oust P.M. Nawaz Sharif?

The big question, before Imran Khan makes good on his threat to assail Islamabad with a million supporters on Nov. 2, is: will the Army step in to make Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down?

The question is unavoidable because there is no other way the government will abdicate. In 2014, the dharna had the covert support of the ISI, with one ex-ISI officer, Brigadier (retd.) Ijaz Shah, actually planning the whole protest in consultation with Imran Khan plus some leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). But new Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif did not go along. Is he on board this time?

There are no clear signs of that. In fact based on the rash actions taken by the government against the PTI’s youth rally on Oct. 28 ahead of Nov. 2, one is compelled to believe Defense Minister Khawaja Asif that the Army has no intention of intervening. But there is one ominous precedent to remember: in 2014, after the police in Lahore killed a number of PAT supporters in Model Town, Gen. Raheel Sharif helped Qadri get a case registered against the government.

Can one draw the conclusion that Khan and PTI leaders are counting on a repeat of Model Town to get the Army to force Nawaz Sharif to resign and bring forward the 2018 general elections? This appears improbable given the personality of General Sharif. He is not seeking another extension and deposing Prime Minister Sharif at this point would actually mean just that.

Getting a million people to invade Islamabad means spending big money. Khan says this is PTI’s last dharna. Does this mean that there are some reservations among PTI leaders—especially those spending the big money—about what Khan is doing? The fact that Khan has been forced to seek donations from (presumably) wealthy backers abroad—as evidenced by his pleas on social media—seem to support this. And if the financial situation is that dire, then the PTI is definitely facing a crisis that big, charismatic leaders have been known to incur because they simply can’t be reasoned with from within the party.

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