Imran Khan’s disturbing tactics

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Controversy thy name is Imran Khan — or so it would appear to be all too often. Steaming into Islamabad for yet another anti-government rally, the PTI supremo on Sunday night ventured into the fraught world of civil-military relations.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is afraid of the army, a thundering Mr Khan claimed.

Moreover, it is because the government is afraid it cannot control army chief Gen Raheel Sharif that the government has tried to give him an extension and even a promotion, Mr Khan alleged.

Never mind that there has been absolutely no indication from either the government or the army chief that a scheduled change of army command will not take place in late November.

Never mind that Gen Sharif himself categorically stated in January that he would retire on time and that neither he nor the military high command has suggested anything contradictory since. All that appears to matter are the rumours and insinuations that Mr Khan apparently sees swirling around him and that he decides must be true.

Surely, this is not the way of a responsible politician. Perhaps the PTI chief, in his endless bid to oust or destabilise the PML-N government, understands the value of cynical politics: if Mr Khan breathes fresh life into old rumour, sections of the media and the political class can join in the clamour and seemingly turn the patently false into a likely possibility.

And if that rumour can give the government jitters or draw the military deeper into the political realm, then the possibility of an overreaction by either side could redound to the PTI’s advantage. But what is remotely democratic about such tactics or, indeed, how is any of it good for institutional stability?

Mr Khan has a democratic right to protest and oppose the elected government of the country.

He also has the right to share with the public his opinion on matters of national importance — but there is a line between sensible, even strident, critique and wanton disruption.

To be sure, the civil-military imbalance is real and Prime Minister Sharif and the army chief have clearly had policy differences over the past two and a half years. Yet, both have found a way to coexist and, as Gen Sharif’s term comes to an end, there is little doubt that the military is not seeking to interrupt democratic continuity.

The unfortunate and unnecessary military criticism of the political government in the wake of the Quetta bombing may have served as yet another reminder of how carefully civil-military ties need to be managed, but it has occurred against the backdrop of a scheduled, impending and orderly change of command in the army.

Mr Khan clearly believes that Nawaz Sharif is unfit to lead this country. But there remains a fundamental question to be asked of Mr Khan: is he truly ready for the responsibility of leading it?

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2016