New Delhi: For some weeks now, it has become apparent that the Pakistan army has given up on Imran Khan. A thoroughly decent man who stands for peace and good-neighbourliness, Imran’s political deficits appealed to the army which runs Pakistan having had enough of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharief’s tantrums and their attempts at political one-upmanship. Benazir was assassinated most likely at the behest of the army but Nawaz proved harder to depose. Desperately ill, he still has enough following to embarrass the military. Imran Khan appeared harmless compared to this lot.

Having rigged the elections and installed him in power, Imran has not filled his political role entirely to the disappointment of the army. Leading the Pakistan Test cricket team to victory combined with charisma is one thing. Altering the political dynamics internally and much more so externally to favour the country and strengthen the military’s control of it is something else. It is in the second role that Imran Khan failed.

Although possibly Pakistan could not have avoided the IMF loan, the blame for chaining Pakistan to tough IMF conditionality had to fall on whoever led the government, however nominally. And Imran Khan, while undoubtedly sincere, did not appear to argue Pakistan’s case for bailouts with Middle East and Chinese benefactors persuasively. Indeed, he angered the Chinese by questioning the benefits to Pakistan of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, compelling the military to intervene and reiterate CPEC’s core significance to the country.

None of this is to suggest a bitter falling out between Imran Khan and the military. It is like a marriage which one partner, the stronger one and the driver of the alliance, realizes is headed nowhere. Marriages can also be alliances of powerful interests; only, the military seems to have realized that Imran Khan contributes little of substance to the alliance.

For example, Imran Khan’s peace overtures to India have proved nonstarters. The Pakistan army would not have permitted its success without handsome gains in Kashmir which look unrealistic today. It indulged him without collateral benefit. The Phulwama-Balakot narrative was only just saved from going against Pakistan. There was bound to be apprehensions among Pakistan’s corps commanders, the real power-centre of Pakistan, that Imran Khan’s dovish sentiments could be misconstrued as weakness by the other side.

Being malleable, Imran Khan would not resist the Pakistan military encroaching on the few powers left with him. Outside of the martial law years, the Pakistan army has obtained, conceivably for the first time, a permanent place in a new National Development Council charged with economic policy formulation. Following IMF loan conditions, the Pakistan army announced voluntary belt-tightening. It desires to keep in step with public opinion. It also reveals an ambition to manage the affairs of Pakistan from behind rather than simply blame politicians for the mess. Besides, there is no obvious bad blood with Imran Khan to shed him although he is ineffective.

The new ISI chief’s appointment should also be viewed through that prism. Kashmir, India, etc, matter, and the re-election of a religious-right government with a larger majority matters still more. All the same, Imran Khan’s lack of politics has demanded some sort of Pakistan army consolidation. The new ISI boss is supposed to be a “hard-liner” and a “deal-maker”. These qualities usually do not coexist in a single person but they could be useful if they do. From the Pakistan army’s viewpoint, they are needed in dollops.

With the economy in a shambles and the FATF stranglehold growing, Pakistan needs a semblance of order which Imran Khan cannot provide. This could partly explain the new ISI chief with his rather special gifts. Pakistan also gives a sense of cracking up with human rights movements such as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement which has been grossly mishandled. Non-violent agitations are usually harder to control because of their moral superiority. Then there are the critical negotiations of the major powers with the Taliban for an Afghan settlement for which an astute ISI chief is worth several divisions. Pakistan may once again have to bear the burdens of Afghanistan.

When Imran Khan met his ambition to be prime minister, he couldn’t have imagined the complications ahead. The Pakistan army will tolerate him having made him PM but it has also given enough indications that it is running the show. Most of the present power-play can be rooted to Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, who is a scholar and a thinker. Without formally making Pakistan a military state, he is bringing it closest to it. And as long as Imran Khan remains prime minister, he will play along. Pakistan is changing in ways which are hard to figure.