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Imran Khan: Is he verily 'prime minister in waiting' or it's just another ploy by the Pakistan Army
Pakistan army's has extended (July 10, 2018, Islamabad) an open invitation through its spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor to the country's voters, urging them to come out and vote for "whatever leader, and whatever party they like" in the next general elections on July 25.

However, a general perception prevails in and outside Pakistan that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan is Pakistan army's first choice as the country's next Prime Minister after pushing of Nawaz Sharif and her daughter Maryam Nawaz in the state of political oblivion by the army. Thus, it will not be a surprise if Imran Khan becomes Pakistan's 19th Prime Minister, succeeding Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Supporters of Imran Khan call him 'Captain". In the meantime, Pakistan watchers are eagerly waiting for the outcome of July elections to see whether Pakistan army 'selects' the "Captain" Imran Khan and allows him to hit the winning shot or he would be ' stumped out" by the remorseless Generals.

Notably, Imran Khan started warming ties with the army immediately after General Qamar Javed Bajwa's taking over as army chief in November 2016 and congratulated the latter telephonically on the same day. Thereafter, Imran Khan became the first leader of opposition who called on the new army chief General Bajwa in April 2017 and personally felicitated him on his promotion. But no one knows where they both met as it was kept secret by the army as well Imran Khan. Consequently, sensing that army had made up mind to get rid of Nawaz Sharif and his days as Prime Minister were numbered after Panama Papers' verdict, Imran Khan started praising and wooing the army and did not hesitate in even saying that "it is the Pakistan army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me."

Imran Khan then started promoting his perspective on civic-military relations by asserting that due to "external and internal challenges" to Pakistan, one has to work with the military and by fighting with the military no one can run the state. He also repeatedly praised General Bajwa for ensuring free and fair elections and alleged that it was Nawaz Sharif led corrupt government as well as India and Afghanistan's hostility towards Pakistan which forced Pakistan's military to "play an outsized role in the country". Imran Khan also started praising USA and its role in the region, where as in the past he used criticize USA intensely for its role in Afghanistan and in the region.

Pakistan army perceives that unlike Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan epitomizes a specified quality of toeing army's line on all major national and international issues which would facilitate the Pakistan army to rule the country behind the curtain. Moreover, like Nawaz Sharif and other professional politicians Imran Khan was not considered to be a corrupt politician and his past philanthropic work would strengthen public's belief that he will do well for Pakistan. Therefore, army started facing allegations of favouring PTI and intimidating PML (N) politicians and pressurizing them to switch over their allegiance to Imran Khan. Notably, alone in Punjab 21 former members of National Assembly belonging to PML (N) defected to Imran Khan's PTI party allegedly at the behest of army. Moreover, army believed that PML (N) was 'crumbling off' and majority of "electable" would prefer Imran Khan over Nawaz Sharif in July elections.

Notably, After PTI's lacklustre performance in 2013 general elections, Imran Khan's major political activities and manoeuvre remained centered around anti- Nawaz Sharif campaigns, accusing the latter of rigging 2013 general elections and then committing corruption worth Pak Rs.300 billion during his last tenure as Prime Minister. After 2013 elections, Imran Khan remained a key opposition leader and relentlessly pressurized Nawaz Sharif through court petitions and street agitations, including famous six month siege of Islamabad in 2014 allegedly with the help of ISI, demanding resignation of Nawaz Sharif. The extent of hatred between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif and his family is so severe that when Nawaz Sharif's London flat was attacked (July 9, 2018) in his presence, Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Nawaz Sharif had linked the attack to Imran Khan's non-stop tirade against Nawaz Sharif and PML(N)

Meanwhile, Pakistan's National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) revealed (July 9, 2018, Islamabad) the names of six leading Pakistani politicians who might be targeted by terrorists during forthcoming general elections on July 25 and the name of Imran Khan was on the top of list. Imran Khan's being under security threat is apprehensible as in the masses he is being called as the "poster boy' of Pakistan army for the next general elections.

Imran Khan's party men are also sure about army support to PTI party. One Nasir Cheema, a PTI candidate for National Assembly seat PP-53 from Gujranwala (Punjab) openly used pictures of Chief of army General Qamar Bajwa in his election posters. He was however, later disqualified by the Election Commission. In the meantime, popularity of Imran Khan is soaring and according to a survey conducted by Karachi-based Pulse Consultant claimed that Imran Khan's party was ahead with the support of 30 percent of respondents nationwide, as to compared to 27 percent for Nawaz Sharif's PML-N.

Meanwhile, one cannot ignore some drawbacks in Imran Khan's personal and political life, which in extreme case may go against him after July elections. He is known to be enigmatic, impulsive and unpredictable and does not have experience of governance at any level, relishes more in showing his political strength through street agitation instead of taking democratic course for bringing political and social changes through legislature. He also faces certain indecent allegations in his personal life, levelled by none other than his second and divorced wife Reham Khan.

On Indo-Pak relations, Imran Khan holds strong anti-Prime Minister Modi sentiments. While unveiling (July 9, 2018, Islamabad) his party's manifesto-2018 titled 'Road to Naya Pakistan', Imran Khan described the Modi government as "the highest aggressive and anti–Pakistan in its 70-year history". He also alleged that terrorism was coming into Pakistan via Afghanistan and "originating in India". While described Indo-Pak relations as "worst", Imran Khan, however, added that Pakistan government should have good relations with its neighbours. On the issue of curbing proliferation of arms and ammunition at international level, Imran Khan revealed that his government would also invite India if come to power.

It may be added, even before elections were announced in Pakistan, Imran Khan was known to be maintaining close contacts with grand master of terrorism Hafiz Saeed.  In April 2018, Imran Khan-led PTI opposed a bill in Pakistan's upper house, the Senate seeking permanently banning of Hafiz Saeed's  Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Imran Khan, however, advocates that the Kashmir issue could be solved in a peaceful manner, which will benefit the entire subcontinent and eliminate poverty. However,   he is critical of alleged human rights violations in Kashmir and vowed to raise his voice for the rights of Kashmiris at every forum.

Significantly, apprehensions are also being expressed about Pakistan army's intensions to make Imran Khan as next Prime Minister of Pakistan after July's general elections. Former Ambassador of Pakistan to USA and director of US based Hudson Institute Husain Haqqani asserted that Imran Khan has been used as an "instrument" to force Nawaz Sharif out from the power "but not to succeed him". According to Haqqani since Imran Khan is "unpredictable and mercurial" army generals will not help someone like Imran Khan if they cannot control him. Moreover, army's spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor on a question of supporting Imran Khan inter alia claimed (July 10, 2018) that "we don't have a political party. We don't have a loyalty".

Since tone of every general election in Pakistan is set by the Pakistan army, next elections on July 25 would be no exception and one has to wait and watch the fate of Imran Khan to see whether he was merely 'used" by the Pakistan army to kick out Nawaz Sharif or the army has found a "suitable" prime minister in him.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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