Islamabad, Pakistan – Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket star turned prime minister, rose to power in 2018 with much fanfare and promises to make his country a land of opportunity.
Khan’s celebrity status and anti-corruption crusade helped him win support in the country’s divisive politics.
But nearly four years later, Khan was removed from office and his charisma has faded.
Though some supporters still believe Khan will return and will hail the successes of his tenure, the legacy of his tenure tells a different story: a shattered economy and a polarized society.
“The economy will continue to be a serious challenge for the new government,” political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Al Jazeera.
Pakistan’s economic challenges are so entrenched that there will be no quick fix, contrary to what many would like, Askari Rizvi said.
He pointed to two additional challenges the new government should take into account: keeping its coalition intact and dealing with Khan in opposition.
When Khan came to power in 2018, he was riding a wave that promised “change.”
But his uncompromising attitude towards the opposition created an impasse that topped the list of his failings in government, Askari Rizvi said, adding that Khan seemed not to understand how parliamentary democracy works.
Khan remains popular with Pakistan’s youth, and if he can convince his supporters of his “anti-American sentiment,” he could bounce back with even more popularity and power, he added.
The cricket star’s rise to power and spectacular fall was “a journey of hope turned to despair,” said Akbar S Babar, a former founding member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
“The PTI was kidnapped by its own captain, an unprecedented phenomenon in politics. He chose the path of power at all costs. Today, he is groping in the dark to save himself and the party,” Babar told Al Jazeera.
In his first public statement after losing the crucial no-confidence vote that removed him from office early Sunday morning, Khan spoke again about a “foreign conspiracy for regime change.”
“Pakistan became an independent state in 1947; but the fight for freedom begins anew today against a foreign regime change conspiracy,” Khan tweeted on Sunday.
“It is always the people of the country who defend their sovereignty and democracy.”
Khan’s conspiracy message has not convinced everyone.
Taxi driver Kashan Qadeer, 26, said he was unmoved by the accusations of foreign meddling in Pakistani politics.
“If the opposition has been helped by foreign forces, then they must have done the same when Khan came to power,” Qadeer told Al Jazeera.
A government needs to serve the needs of the people and incentivize the poor, whether it be Khan or anyone else in power, he said.
Khan’s PTI government was indifferent to the problems facing the people, the taxi driver added, and had focused more on playing a political victim than leading the anti-corruption campaign.
Rising oil prices, falling incomes and skyrocketing food costs were the main issues Qadeer wanted the new government to tackle first.
“I am happy about what happened to the Khan government,” said Muhammad Aqeeb, a 30-year-old grocery vendor at Aabpara, Islamabad’s oldest market.
“My salary is 30,000 rupees ($160), but life has never been as difficult as it has been in the last four years,” Aqeeb told Al Jazeera.
Business has shrunk by at least 30 percent during Khan’s tenure, he said, because people don’t have spending power.
During the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rule, prices did not change exponentially and Aqeeb hoped those days would return again.
“What matters to us is the food on the table, not the conspiracies,” said retired soldier Zahoor Ahmad, 60.
Ahmad works as a security guard in a luxury area of the capital and two of his three children are unemployed.
“I am a heart patient and I cannot afford to be out of work,” he added.
Khan still has supporters who believe he had plans for a future Pakistan.
Gul Sher, a 27-year-old computer engineer, said he was upset by the removal of the Khan government.
The two main political parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been in power for decades and have done nothing to uplift the people or address the country’s multifaceted crises, Sher said.
Khan’s fight is for future generations in Pakistan, unlike opposition leaders who came together to safeguard their old interests, he told Al Jazeera.
“Youth are well aware of the fact that inflation is a global phenomenon, and Khan cannot be blamed for that.”