It seems that ‘Kaptaan Saab’ may be on his last wicket. Among a recent slew of bizarre development is the ‘Notification Gate’, which refers to the falling out between PM Imran Khan Niazi and his Army Chief over the appointment of a new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief. Add to that the explosive investigative piece revealing that a former Chief Justice had issued a directive to a High Court judge not to release former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter before the 2018 election, which exposed completely that Khan was indeed as ‘selected’ a Prime Minister as it was possible to be. But selection may soon be replaced by elimination. Speculation is rife that his days are numbered, as Khan beats his own dismal record in sending the country into a tailspin.

The ‘Notification Gate’ Fiasco

The story of ‘Notification Gate’ is now common knowledge. To summarise, the Prime Minister wanted his rather politically useful ISI Chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed, to continue, but the Army thought not. Khan wanted to exercise his prerogative to name the next Chief, the Army thought not. The tussle continued for over a month until the Prime Minister’s office finally issued a notification in late October stating that after “a detailed consultative process”, the Prime Minister’s Office had appointed Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the next Chief, but only after a month.

Clearly, this was pushing it. Khan will now have an ISI head who will be far from the supportive entity that was his predecessor, and an Army Chief more than unusually annoyed with him. No, the indications are not good. The rumour mills speculate just how long the premier would last, and who would be his successor, whether it’d be someone from his own party or members of his coalition. These rumours could still have been put aside, but for other developments.

The Explosive Nawaz Sharif Report

Embarrassingly for Bani Gala, a story by Ansar Abbasi revealed that Former Chief Judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana M Shamim, had stated in a notarised affidavit that he was witness to the then Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s direction to a High Court judge not to release Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz on bail at any cost before the 2018 general election. The paper then released the entire statement.

It was damning indeed, indicating just how far the establishment had gone for a well and truly ‘selected’ Prime Minister.

Pakistan watchers will remember the soap opera aired across television channels on the drama of the Sharif corruption cases, with all investigation reports (most unusually for Pakistan) made public in toto. Reports of expensive flats in the UK tripped over stories of his business empire, all of which served to haze over the fact that the Sharifs were an extremely wealthy industrial family, to begin with. The sensational disclosure was complete vindication for Sharif, but what followed was surreal.

The journalist fraternity in Pakistan, always known for their courage, rallied behind Abbasi. The opposition naturally went all out on the issue, while even coalition members like the Pakistan Muslim League’s (Q) Pervez Ellahi tweeted about how difficult it was to support a government “unable to control inflation”. Clearly, coalition partners were hedging their bets, a day after the story broke.

The ‘Righteous’ Rightist Slide of Kaptaan

It is true that Imran Khan can’t be entirely blamed for the economic situation. Climate change has caused Pakistan’s agriculture to slow down, with a nearly 30 percent decline in cotton, the mainstay of the economy and which employs the maximum people. Add to that food inflation at 8.9 percent which hits the poorest.

But the real bumbling is elsewhere. The negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which caused riots in Pakistan and killed eight policemen, all on the issue of blasphemy, were bad enough, especially since they had been preceded by warnings from National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf. Much worse, however, was the truce with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) brokered by the notorious Sirajuddin Haqqani. The outrage was evident as the Supreme Court grilled the Prime Minister on negotiating with a group that had killed 137 children in the 2014 Army Public School outrage; parents of the killed children held protests, while the media condemned it.

The TLP is already the third-largest party in Punjab, the sixth in Sindh, and the seventh in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pakistan Taliban have had a soft spot for Imran Khan ever since he argued against military operations against them when in Opposition. Neither has he been ever been known to utter a word of criticism against them, even during their worst excesses. A pointer in this direction is that he has since announced the Rehmatul-lil-Alameen Authority to make the country and the world “aware” of Islam. Notably, the new authority will also “remain vigilant of any blasphemous content being shared on the media”. Its patron chief is the Prime Minister himself. That’s hard to beat even for the TLP.

Khan has gone still further. He now proposes character building of youth by means of “religious festivals”, even as religious teachings are to be included in the curriculum of universities and schools. As leaders before him, Khan’s slide to the right seems to accelerate as his popularity falls.

The Army Isn’t Happy

But the Army is not amused. As an institution, it likes to keep the extremists and even the religious right firmly under its control. Even influential Jamaat-e-Islami leaders are known to have been “summoned” to the ISI headquarters when necessary. That model seems to have been destroyed beyond redemption. Firstly, this can be due to the ISI Chief’s predilection for raising groups like the TLP and possibly still retaining them under his control. Second, it now seems that his Prime Minister is defeating the zealots at their own game, going further than anyone envisaged.

Meanwhile, Khan seems oblivious to the storm gathering about his head. He has called a joint session of Parliament to pass a controversial Bill on using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and give the vote to nine million overseas Pakistanis, who are seen as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) vote bank for the next election. His allies are fearful and undecided, waiting for the decision of the final arbiter even while nursing their own ambitions. The knives are out too. Nawaz Sharif may be coming back home.