As the Pakistan National Assembly is set to start its session from February 18, all eyes are on the opposition parties, which have vowed to bring a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan in a bid to oust him. Unlike their failed attempts in the past, the united opposition is confident of getting the magic number in the Assembly.
"The opposition is trying to close all the loose ends before they go for the final. They want to be hundred per cent sure of getting 'blessings' from the military establishment. For them it is now or never because the situation is ripe and people are fed up with the Imran Khan government," says Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist.
But has the opposition got the magic number of 172 votes in the 342-member House to oust the Imran Khan government? The leaders of the united opposition front Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) are holding their cards close to their chests, leaving the government to guess about how their plans will unveil. Political hobnobbing among Imran Khan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) coalition partners and the PDM leaders have caused panic in the ranks of PTI leaders.
Imran Khan is laughing off the opposition's move to get the magic number because the Pakistan constitution empowers a party head to disqualify a member who votes or abstains from voting in the House against the direction of the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs. But according to Pakistani experts, allied parties do not come under this law. They are free to vote against the government.
"Ultimately the opposition would need support from the coalition partners of Imran Khan government like the Mutahida Quomi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) and they would not be on the side of the opposition if the military establishment so willed," said one Pakistani expert, adding that these allies will not join the opposition owing to personal rivalries and egos, but may vote against Imran Khan government.
In addition, a group of 25-30 MPs of the ruling PTI has already formed a separate cluster within the party under Jehangir Tarin, a sugar baron who was at one time Imran Khan's right-hand man and according to Pakistani media. But this faction is now likely to be part of the opposition to oust Khan.
According to Pakistani analysts, the rift between Imran Khan and the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has gone to the point of no return but the military establishment is wary of taking direct power as it has done many times in the past. The reason behind it is that it was the establishment which bought Imran Khan after rigging the elections in 2018. The Pakistanis thus have been calling this government "hybrid regime", because of the military's visible hand in "selecting" the Imran Khan government. But now, it is evident that this experiment of political engineering has failed on every front, persuading the military led by the powerful Army Chief General Bajwa to a decision to get rid of Khan. Gul Bukhari, a Pakistani columnist was spot on when she said on her Twitter post: "No-confidence move is Bajwa's game. Do not be a facilitator. He who brought the baby (Imran Khan) should himself show him the door. Why are you helping? Let him do it."
Bajwa knows very well that if he does not get rid of Imran Khan now, the next few months will be crucial for his own survival. Bajwa is due to retire in November 2022 and it is unlikely that Imran Khan will agree to give him any extension. Imran Khan would prefer to appoint his favourite Faiz Hameed as the next Army Chief, with whose support he can ensure that he gets re-elected in next general elections in 2023.
In the last meeting of the Corps Commanders, Bajwa was cautioned by his faithful generals about how the "hybrid regime" has harmed the credibility of the establishment.
Imran Khan is under immense pressure due to his failed policies -- an unprecedented economic meltdown and the highest inflation rate of 13 per cent, unemployment, industrial stagnation and a sharp polarisation in the country. The supply and demand side distortions have pushed the prices of commodities, electricity and gas sky high. Social stability undermined by red-hot radicalisation is at its nadir.