Imran Khan’s tumultuous tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan is over, after weeks of great political drama and days of constitutional chaos.
Supreme Court historic verdict on Thursday night he restored a parliament that Khan had tried to dissolve and ordered a no-confidence vote that he tried to prevent.
Khan was effectively left with a choice: resign or be removed from office.
The political death of the former prime minister had its roots in twin new realities. Inside parliament, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had lost the support of coalition alliesdenying him the majority he needed to defeat the motion of no confidence.
Outside parliament, Khan appeared to lose the support of Pakistan’s powerful military, which the opposition says helped him win the 2018 general election, and had recently fallen out publicly with the prime minister over senior military appointments and political decisions. .
The PTI and the military have denied the accusations.
In recent weeks, as the main opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), stepped up their efforts to dislodge Khan, coalition allies expressed discontent. with the.
“Governance-wise, the government had totally failed,” said Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a coalition ally that withdrew its support for Khan in late March.
“There was discontent for the last two years,” Kakar added. “Party [BAP] he was not happy with his participation in the federal government and the ministerial portfolio that has been assigned to him.”
Nadeem Afzal Chan, a special assistant to the prime minister who resigned from his post and rejoined the opposition PPP in early March, echoed the ill humor among Khan’s former allies.
“I was impressed with Khan’s anti-corruption platform and was tired of the status quo,” Chan said. “But then I saw that while Khan publicly spoke of the poor, he privately surrounded himself with wealthy investors.”
A deepening economic crisis contributed to dissatisfaction with Khan with double-digit inflation dogged for much of his term.
In February, as opposition momentum against Khan mounted, the prime minister announced a cut in domestic fuel and electricity prices despite the global rise, and pledged to freeze prices until the end of the fiscal year in June.
The move increased pressure on Pakistan’s chronic fiscal deficit and balance of payments problems. This week, the rupee fell to record lows against the US dollar and the State Bank of Pakistan raised interest rates sharply in an emergency meeting.
“Part of that was the situation they inherited from the previous government and part of it was of course COVID,” said Shahrukh Wani, an economist at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. “But the government quickly fell into firefighting and the reforms were never carried out.”
For Khan’s former allies like Chan, discontent among constituency voters had faded. “The inflation, the fertilizer shortage, the local government in Punjab, the surveillance, it was all too much,” Chan said.
Within parliament, the loss of Allied support reversed Khan’s figures. BAP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) account for less than five percent of the seats in the 342-member National Assembly.
But by pledging to support the no-confidence vote against Khan, the coalition allies effectively ended Khan’s three-and-a-half-year term as prime minister. Opposition parties also claimed to have the support of several dissident PTI parliamentarians.
Meanwhile, the economy remains in a sorry state. Miftah Ismail, a former PML-N finance minister who bowed to retake the post he held in 2018, said: “The two biggest economic challenges facing Pakistan right now are high inflation and the rapid depletion of foreign exchange reserves. .
“The difficulty is that as the currency has been devalued due to the decrease in reserves, it generates even more inflation.”
role of the military
With the confirmation of Khan’s departure, the former allies are increasingly candid about the third rail of Pakistani politics: civil-military relations.
Parliamentary support for the prime minister began to dissolve as the military signaled that it would not side with Khan against the opposition, a policy of so-called neutrality.
“When the establishment became neutral, the allies saw that the government would not survive,” said BAP Senator Kakar. “Once the view took hold that he can’t stay, it was only a matter of time.”
Khan is the latest in a long line of Pakistani prime ministers who have feuded with the military over key appointments and foreign policy.
In October, simmering civil-military tensions erupted in public view when Khan attempted to retain Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed as military espionage chief, rejecting army chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa’s nominee.
General Bajwa’s candidate, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, was eventually named the new Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence, but the weeks-long standoff was painful and ominous.
General Bajwa’s second term as army chief will end in November, and General Hameed will be one of the most senior generals eligible to replace him. The Pakistani prime minister appoints the head of the army.
Also extraordinary was Khan’s attempt to restructure ties with the US, Pakistan’s largest trading partner and a troubled ally that the military has tried to keep as a major partner.
In February, seeking what Khan described as a neutral foreign policy, Khan traveled to Russia seeking trade deals on the eve of russian invasion of ukraine. He left with just a handshake from Russian President Vladimir Putin hours after the attack began on February 24.
While the Pakistani military backed Khan’s trip to Moscow, differences intensified after Khan made a high-stakes internal pivot. Facing defeat in the no-confidence motion in parliament, Khan alleged a US-led plot to remove him from office as punishment for his trip to Russia and his neutral foreign policy.
As evidence of the plot, Khan showed a letter at a public rally in Islamabad on March 27, claiming that the United States had sent a diplomatic warning to Pakistan to remove him as prime minister.
The diplomatic missive, the alleged US threat, and Khan’s claim that the censorship was part of a US-led conspiracy disrupted Pakistan’s politics and civil-military relations.
Retired Major General Athar Abbas, a former military spokesman and Pakistan’s ambassador to Ukraine from 2015 to 2018, said: “The letter warranted a strong response and corrective action. Response [in the military] it’s mixed on whether it should have been used to meddle with the vote of no confidence.”
General Abbas also outlined a number of differences between Khan and the military leadership that had built up during Khan’s time in office, including Khan’s political and economic mismanagement that was acting as a drag on the public image of the military. .
On Khan’s opposition to military operations inside Pakistan and US-led wars internationally since the September 11 attacksGeneral Abbas: “The prime minister’s position on the war on terror is that we fought America’s war and suffered losses in men and materiel. The military opinion was that these were the consequences of the Afghan war and that we had no choice.
“The pressure on the military leadership is that if it were America’s war, then all the sacrifices of young officers and soldiers would be wasted,” Abbas said.
Another retired military officer, Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry, suggested that tensions with the military were also related to Khan’s style of government.
“On matters of politics, Khan could be fickle. There was no predictability or stability. Imran Khan is a populist, that is also his vulnerability.”
Defeated inside parliament and undone outside, Khan is unlikely to be a politically exhausted force. The cyclical nature of Pakistani politics has seen former prime ministers bounce back in the past.
Khan also has the advantage of working his way back to power from a fertile political base.
Chan, a former special assistant to the prime minister, said: “A month ago, people were abusing [Khan and the PTI government] due to inflation
“Now, they say he has stood for a proud and independent Pakistan.”