With so many Pakistanis believing Imran Khan’s ‘Great Steal’, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will have little peace in office.
President Donald Trump began to delegitimise the 2020 presidential poll months before the first vote was cast, just as he did the 2016 election. He told his supporters that in 2016, fraudulent votes snatched from him the popular vote he claimed he won. We now know that there was foreign interference in the 2016 presidential elections; however, it was to help — not hinder — Trump’s electoral victory. Going into the 2020 elections, a majority of Americans (60 per cent) did not have confidence in the honesty of elections. Trump began building his “Big Lie” about the theft of his victory before, during and after America went to the polls.
On 23 September, Trump said of mail-in ballots that they were “out of control.” That American armed service personnel and diplomats have been voting through mail-in ballots without problem did not deter the then president. That Americans every year safely mail their tax payments did not deter him. For Trump, they would contribute to election theft. He raised questions about the voting machines being used and accused the democrats of using the electronic voting machines to steal his election. After the ballots were cast and counted, he demanded recount after recount. Where he was winning, he wanted the count to end. Where he was losing, he demanded recounts. The end result of his painstaking erection of the “Big Lie”? Only one in five Republicans believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president. It seems Imran Khan has taken a page out of Trump’s playbook and created a fictive Big Steal of his own.
As is well-known, former prime minister Imran Khan, was the favoured boy in the real capital of Pakistan: Rawalpindi. The army secured his prime ministership before the election and through massive rigging and they did so by forging a coalition of the billing which Khan would lead. Like the prime ministers before him, he too came to believe that he was too beloved by the people and Pakistan’s allies alike to be ousted. Like all prime ministers before him, he too learned that he is as expendable as the army wants.
Imran’s mistakes were numerous. First and foremost was that he failed in even the limited remit that the army grants the prime minister. Pakistan’s shambolic economy and flailing governance began to reflect poorly on the army because everyone understood he served as the pleasure of Pindi. Consequently, Pakistan’s all-powerful Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, began to have concerns about his acolyte. Khan also committed the deadly sin of interfering in the army’s internal affairs when Bajwa wanted to replace General Faiz Hameed as the head of the ISI. Khan baulked because it was Hameed who emplaced Khan through the electoral shenanigans the ISI had perfected. But Khan also publicly disagreed with Bajwa on a range of foreign policy matters as well whether it was Pakistan’s policy towards the United States, India or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As Islamabad was rife with rumours that Khan had lost the army’s support, Khan’s foes smelled blood in the water. While the ragtag band of disgruntled opponents that formed the Opposition began to organise for a no-confidence vote, Khan was busy preparing the fundament of his own big lie. Khan claimed that the United States had threatened him. He told his followers that America wants him out of power because he alone has the gonadal fortitude to oppose the imperial hubris of the Greatest Satan. The army notably rubbished this conspiracy. His paltan of social media soldiers took to the interwebs to declare the assault on Imran Khan and Pakistan’s sovereignty itself.
This was originally published in Firstpost on 1 June 2022.