Pakistani social media channels attack Prime Minister Imran Khan and his govt

New Delhi: The last few months have witnessed across the board attacks on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government by the country’s media, especially the vloggers, as if heralding his downfall in the next few months, if not weeks.

An array of journalists who have traditionally been known to cover political news spiced with gossip and ‘talk of the town’ rhetoric have taken to the social media attacking Khan and his government any which way they can. From corruption in the administration, to the sharp drop in the value of the rupee, to the string of protests across the country on a range of issues, to the political squabbling between the various parties – have all been reported with adequate facts and somewhat reliable inputs.

The Prime Minister’s China visit came in for severe criticism with media vloggers like Aniq Naji and others of the like terming the visit a “total flop”. They questioned the timing of the visit, especiallywhen the government was under attack and the Army was facing one of the worst tragedies with significant casualties at the hands of Baloch rebels. These vloggers were also critical of Imran khan for shamelessly defending his stand on most issues and criticizing the opposition. Some reports indicated that besides the attacks faced by Pakistani security forces in Balochistan there was a growing threat to soft targets and security forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and elsewhere, while the government remained unfettered by these indicators.

Over the last one month or so, most of these political vloggers have gone on a rampage against Khan in a carefully calibrated and synchronized manner, stating that his govt was facing an imminent collapse due to the heightened activities of Asif Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto, Shehbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman who have been wooing government allies including MQM, PML (Q), PSP and GDA. Some of these reporters have been pushing the line that there is a possibility of Khan adopting a suicidal approach out of desperation in the coming days in the form of trying to replace the incumbent Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The question remains as to what extent would this be acceptable to the establishment and whether such an attempt would indeed succeed.

The news about former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talking to the media after chairing a meeting of central executive committee of PML (N)through video link was also extensively covered by these vloggers with the you tube channels being clustered with thisnews alongwith a range of related analysis. Statement by Nawaz Sharif to the effect that PML-N will step forward and fulfill its duty to rid the people of Pakistan of the “cruel and corrupt” Khan, received tremendous coverage all across the media domain. Some vloggers went on to build on the narrative that Khan had created a “tamasha” of Pakistan and irrespective of whether people across the country were receiving food and basic requirements, Pakistan had become the most corrupt country in the world.

A series of detailed analysis was carried out by most vloggers on the evolving situation in Pakistan which was reaching a critical phase. There was also extensive coverage of the statement by Shehbaz Sharif’s son and opposition leader in Punjab Assembly when he had said (Lahore, February 10), while talking to the media, that all opposition parties were united on the one point agenda of removing Khan and that it is to be decided whether the no confidence vote would be introduced first in the National Assembly or in the Punjab Assembly.

Najam Sethi’s comments on Zardari’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhary brothers, especially when he mentions that this was an indication of the “end of the game” for Khan, received significant viewership and was re-emphasised by a host of vloggers. He went on to mention that Government allies including PML(Q), MQM and others had become very active and what was being seen and known in public domain in terms of their activism was only the tip of the iceberg.

Sethi mentioned that in the first phase, a no confidence vote will take place against Khan and it could succeed by around 15-20 votes. In such a scenario, he mentions that the Prime Minister is likely to be removed in two to three weeks. In the event of Khan surviving the no confidence, Sethi says that theopposition will go for a long march and this is when it will become clear as to whose side the establishment is on.

One of the news beat channels run by Imran Shafqat, who was detained by Pakistani authorities in August 2021 for reporting against the government, quoted a member of PML-N in the CEC as stating that the Pakistani establishment has been conveyed that Imran Khan has become a security risk because of mismanagement of the economy and that he needed to be removed. Shafqat also created the narrative that in the event of any further weakening of the state in terms of security and a virtual economic collapse, the nuclear assets held by the state could be in danger with the IAEA and other parties wanting to take control of these assets. He also went on to highlight the fact that the day was not far when China might take control of the Gwadar project fully considering the huge pending debt.

Another popular YouTube news anchor Zafar Naqvi, who has also traditionally held an anti-Imran stand, created waves when he mentioned, quoting Hamid Mir and “another source” from the establishment, that Zardari can be the new Prime Minister. He went on to mention that there has been an agreement between the establishment, Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rahman on this name. Zafar also criticised Khan for resorting to false accusations against his political rivals after being cornered. He was referring to allegations by Khan to the effect that Zardari had offered 10-20 crores to each MNAs. Khan apparently quoted journalist Haroonur Rashid as stating that Zardari had offered the post of Deputy PM to Moonis Elahi, son of Pervaiz Elahi, PML(Q) leader and Speaker of Punjab Assembly.

As far as support from the traditional foreign partner the US is concerned, vlogs by Rizwan Razi, another popular news editor and journalist, and Imran Shafqat recently quoted Absar Alam revealing that Nawaz Sharif had established contacts with President Joe Biden’s administration and the White House through the good offices of former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani for any future set up in Pakistan. These vloggers emphasized the fact that the US also remains disenchanted with the Imran Khan government on the Afghan issue and was looking at a change in the government.

China visit

The China visit was perceived by Khan as an opportunity for ensuring a major diversion for the media and the people of Pakistan from the traditional political and economic issues on which he has been facing flak. However, Khan’s China visit came in for a heavy assault by most vloggers who criticized the visit in strong terms. Saleem Safi, a journalist, columnist and defence analyst, termed Khan’s visit to Beijing as “totally unsuccessful” and said that the government tried utmost to transform the travel to Beijing for the winter Olympics into an official visit.However, this was not to be as was evident from the manner of reception the delegation received.

Saleem went on to mention that the Chinese government was tired of the Imran government because of halting of work on CPEC and it’s indifference towards Chinese infrastructure building activities. He claimed that the Chinese were thus keen to see a change in the government. He went on to mention that the Chinese preferred working with Musharraf, Zardari and the Sharifs. Safi revealed that both the Chinese government and Imran government are not ready to accept each other’s mechanism on the second phase of CPEC for a variety of reasons and the Chinese remain disturbed at this state of affairs.

Most of the other vloggers reported that despite Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s tall claims of in depth talks with the Chinese leadership, including President Xi Jinping, the Pakistan visit was unsuccessful with Khan returning empty handed without getting any financial support as was expected. There was unanimity among the vloggers on the Chinese showing no interest on their position on Kashmir. They also ridiculed the mention about Pakistani sacrifices inthe war on terror and Pakistan’s endorsement of one Chinapolicy during the meeting with the Chinese.

In a sarcastic tone, Rizwan Razi claimed that Pakistan had only one item to sell as part of its services to China and this was its expertise in tackling terrorism. At the same time, Imran Shafqat while referring to Xinjiang, said that the West has been asking Pakistan as to why it’s strong support for “Islam and jihad” comes to a halt on the issue of Xinjiang and the problems being faced by the Muslims there. Shafqat further questions as to why Pakistan continues to remain inactive while ensuring action against the Jaish and Lashkar.

The overall prediction by the vloggers is that a no confidence move would be made by the end of this month or early next month. With both PDM/PML-N and PPP agreeing to oust Imran, opposition’s efforts are now focused on PML (Q) and MQM in particular, besides the other allies of the govt in general. Both PML (Q) and MQM are building up their pitch in a manner that they would end up demanding amajor chunk in the post Imran set up. Going by assessment by most vloggers, it is believed that with the help of PTI JKT group and other dissidents, who total around 30-35, and BAP members, a no confidence move is expected to sail through.

Indications are that Gen Bajwa will get another extension. Meanwhile, given the tense political situation prevailing, Army chief Bajwa’s US visit which was scheduled on February 15-16 has been cancelled. At this stage, virtually every action and move by Imran khan is being monitored closely by the media and a latest video has been doing the rounds of people of Pakistan mocking Imran Khan for awarding certificates of appreciation to inefficient and corrupt ministers a couple of days back. Rumours of differences between Khan and his wife have also been doing the rounds with some vloggers claiming that the First Lady had left the residence for a different location ostensibly because Khan was livid due to the corruption she and her close aided were involved in. The vloggers have however criticized the Prime Minister for pretending as if he didn’t know what was going on within his close quarters, and possibly looking for creating a clean image for himself.

Overall, the anti-Imran rhetoric has been strong and as most vloggers and media leads have claimed, such narratives are not created without any firm basis and support from the “right quarters”. There is no doubt thus that the Prime Minister today faces the heat and could strive to take rare and short sightedsteps that could damage his reputation and career. If the vloggers have to be believed, the end of the Imran Khan government is near.


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