Imran Khan has waded waist deep into controversy again, surpassing previous records by drawing outrage from almost every sector of the political spectrum. Perhaps most perplexing of all is how he managed to undermine his own narrative and unwittingly lend credence to the narrative of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the space of a few lines. For a politician seemingly in the ascendency, taking an axe to one’s own foot – in such spectacular manner – is a shocking move.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief, during an interview to Geo News’ senior journalist Hamid Mir, said that the ruling party and Nawaz Sharif were helped tremendously by elements from the armed forces in Punjab during the 2013 general elections – which helped him rig it. Nawaz Sharif, who had chosen the odd moniker of “extraterrestrial beings” to refer to outside interference in elections – and who was being mercilessly mocked by the media for using such imagery – would be breathing a sigh of relief. Not only has his main political opponent asserted the central claim of his recent narrative – that the military interferes in the democratic elections – he has also managed to draw the cross-hairs of the media away from him and on to Imran Khan. In a charged election, where institutional overreach is such a major contention among political parties, Imran’s comments were bound to stir up a furor.
Sure enough, the main man accused by the PTI chief, Retired Brigadier Muzaffar Ali Ranjha, former chief of the Punjab branch of the Military Intelligence (MI), has promptly hit back. Mr Ranjha advised Mr Khan to get his rigging allegations probed by another commission if he was still not satisfied, sarcastically saying if he failed to prove his claim, the punishment should not be less than hanging. More damaging than this statement is the accusation, leveled my Mr Ranjha against Imran Khan, of “maligning institution of army”. Imran Khan has always painted himself as a staunch supporter of the military and alluded to the tacit support he receives from them. He is the last person who would want to be caught “maligning” the armed forces.
It is difficult to see what Imran Khan hoped to achieve out of this. As Mr Ranjha rightly pointed out, the claims of rigging in the 2013 elections were thoroughly investigated and rejected by the Supreme Court under the leadership of the Chief Justice. Such comments win him no supporters and appease no vote banks. It only makes him seem irresponsible and it has done just that.