Taunting the Bull

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Pakistani and Indian diplomats recently traded barbs over who is a sponsor of terrorism, the Associated Press wrote. The kerfuffle was important because, as the Council on Foreign Relations explained, the two South Asian countries are nuclear powers that have fought wars in the past, including numerous border clashes that have occurred as recently as early 2021.

Pakistan is also facing aggression on its border with Afghanistan. Sixteen Pakistani civilians were injured recently when clashes between border guards erupted at a crossing, Al Jazeera reported. Relations between the two countries have soured since the US quit Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.

Pakistani officials have accused the Taliban of giving safe haven to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group. The TPP has been fighting Pakistani forces to instigate an orthodox Islamic government in Pakistan similar to the one that now rules Afghanistan, explained a CNN analysis.

Meanwhile, the economy is on the brink. Inflation in Pakistan exceeds 25 percent. Severe floods recently affected over 30 million people, Reuters wrote, and caused $30 billion in damage.

This context is important in understanding Imran Khan, the former cricket star who served as prime minister of Pakistan from 2018 until a no-confidence vote in parliament forced him out in April 2022. Pakistan faces chaos within and without, say analysts. Khan is now fighting to return to power on the potentially outrageous promise that he can make things right.

Khan lost his job when it became clear he had lost the support of the Pakistani military following a number of disputes with its generals, who have an outsized say in Pakistani politics.

In his bid to return to power, Khan hasn’t flinched from attacking the commanders, in fact he relishes it.

That in itself is unusual in Pakistan.

As think tank Stratfor wrote, he openly accuses the military and its backers in the US government of conspiring to keep him out of office. Ordinarily, the powerful Pakistani military would have been able to keep Khan quiet. But his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party controls important local legislatures. Pakistani President Arif Alvi, supreme commander of the armed forces, is a former party member, too, Washington Post op-ed columnist Hamid Mir added.

Critics contend that Khan wants the military to attempt to quell his supporters – he’s already riding on theories that the military is out to kill him – and blames it for a recent shooting that left him wounded. Regardless, if the military made such a move, it would help him win elections again if elections are held in the coming months. As Pakistani journalist Abbas Nasir argued in the New York Times, however, Khan failed to stop the army from appointing a new chief, a sign his influence might be waning. In response, he recently threatened to pull his party out of the provincial assemblies it controls, resulting in their dissolution, in a move to disrupt politics and potentially trigger new elections.

It’s a game of chicken – except the people with the most to lose aren’t in control.

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