Imran Khan’s tumultuous tenure as prime minister of Pakistan finished, after weeks of intense political drama and days of constitutional turmoil.
Supreme Court landmark ruling late on Thursday restored a parliament that Khan had sought to dissolve and demanded a vote of no confidence which he sought to avoid.
Khan was actually left with a choice: resign or be voted off.
The former prime minister’s political downfall stems from two new realities. Inside parliament, Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was lost the support of alliance alliesdenied him the majority he needed to defeat a vote of no confidence.
Outside parliament, Khan appears to have lost the support of Pakistan’s powerful military, which the opposition accuses of helping him win the 2018 general election and has recently been openly at odds. with the prime minister on senior military appointments and policy decisions.
PTI and the military have denied the allegations.
In recent weeks, as the main opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), have stepped up efforts to remove Khan, the coalition’s allies have risen to the top. voice expressed dissatisfaction with him.
Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), an ally that withdrew in support of Khan at the end of March, said: “In terms of governance, the government has completely failed.
“There has been discontent in the last two years,” Kakar added. “Party [BAP] unhappy about its market share in the federal government and the ministerial portfolio to which it was allocated. “
Nadeem Afzal Chan, a special assistant to the Prime Minister who resigned and rejoined the opposition PPP in early March, echoed the sour mood among Khan’s original allies.
“I was impressed by Khan’s anti-corruption background and am tired of the status quo,” Chan said. “But then I found that while Khan openly talked about the poor, he surrounded himself privately with wealthy investors.”
A deepening economic crisis has contributed to Khan’s displeasure with double-digit inflation extending much of his term.
In February, as momentum against Khan built, the prime minister announced cuts in domestic fuel and electricity prices despite the global surge, pledging to freeze prices until the end of the financial year in June. .
The move has put additional pressure on Pakistan’s chronic financial deficit and balance of payments troubles. This week, Rupee falls to all-time low against the US dollar and the State Bank of Pakistan sharply raised interest rates in an emergency meeting.
“Part of it is the situation they inherited from the previous government and part of it is COVID,” said Shahrukh Wani, an economist at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. “But the government quickly fell into arson and the reforms were never implemented.”
As for Khan’s former allies like Chan, the discontent among constituency voters has dwindled. “Inflation, lack of fertilizer, local government in Punjab, policy, it’s all been too much,” said Chan.
In parliament, the loss of support from allies reversed the numbers for Khan. The BAP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) took less than five percent of the seats in the 342-member National Assembly.
But by pledging to support a vote of no confidence against Khan, the coalition’s allies effectively ended Khan’s three-and-a-half years as prime minister. Opposition parties also claim to have the support of a number of dissident PTI MPs.
Meanwhile, the economy remains in a state of loss. “The two biggest economic challenges facing Pakistan at the moment are high inflation and rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves,” said Miftah Ismail, former finance minister of PML-N.
“The difficulty is that when the currency depreciates due to reduced reserves, it increases inflation further.”
The role of the military
With Khan’s departure confirmed, former allies have become increasingly outspoken about the third path of Pakistani politics: civil-military relations.
The prime minister’s support in parliament began to fade when the military signaled that it would not side with Khan against the opposition, a policy known as neutrality.
“When the establishment becomes neutral, the allies see that the government will not survive,” said Senator Kakar of the BAP. “Once the vision was so entrenched that he couldn’t stay, it was only a matter of time.”
Khan is the latest in a long line of Pakistani prime ministers to disagree with the military over key appointments and foreign policy.
In October, simmering civil-military tensions erupted in public when Khan tried to keep Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed as chief of military espionage, rejecting the nomination of Army Commander-in-Chief Qamar Bajwa.
General Bajwa’s nominee, Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, has finally been named the new director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, but the weeks-long stalemate has been difficult and ominous.
General Bajwa’s second term as Army Commander-in-Chief will end in November, with General Hameed one of the most senior generals eligible to replace him. The Prime Minister of Pakistan appoints the commander-in-chief of the army.
Also of note is Khan’s attempt to re-establish relations with the United States, Pakistan’s largest trading partner and close ally that the military has sought to maintain as an important partner.
In February, in pursuit of what Khan describes as a neutral foreign policy, Khan traveled to Russia to seek trade deals on the eve of his visit. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left with just a handshake from Russian President Putin hours after the attack began on February 24.
While the Pakistani military supported Khan’s trip to Moscow, differences grew after Khan made a domestic pivot attempt. Facing defeat in a vote of no confidence in parliament, Khan accused a US-led plot to remove him as punishment for his trip to Russia and his neutral foreign policy.
As evidence of the conspiracy, Khan waved a letter during a public rally in Islamabad on March 27, claiming the US had issued a diplomatic warning to Pakistan to remove him from his position as prime minister. generals.
The diplomatic fallacy, the alleged US threat, and Khan’s claim that distrust was part of a US-led conspiracy have shaken Pakistani politics and relations with the United States. civil-military system.
Retired Major General Athar Abbas, a former military spokesman and Pakistani Ambassador to Ukraine from 2015 to 2018, said: “The letter warrants a strong response and remedial measures. React [in the military] mixed on whether it should be used to interfere in a vote of no confidence. ”
General Abbas also described some of the differences between Khan and the military leadership that had accumulated during Khan’s time in power, including that Khan’s poor political and economic management was affecting the military’s image before. general public.
On Khan’s opposition to military operations inside Pakistan and US-led international wars since September 11 attacksGeneral Abbas said: “The Prime Minister’s view on the war on terror is that we have fought the American war and suffered loss of life and property. The military’s view is that it’s the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan and we have no choice.
“The pressure on the military leadership is that if it is an American war, then all the sacrifices of young officers and soldiers are a waste,” said Abbas.
Another retired military official, Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry, suggested that tensions with the military were also related to Khan’s operating style.
“On policy matters, Khan can be shrewd. No predictability or stability. Imran Khan is a populist, that is also his vulnerability.”
Defeated inside parliament and undone outside, though Khan is unlikely to be a spending force politically. The cyclical nature of Pakistani politics has seen a resurgence of former prime ministers.
Khan also has the advantage of finding his way back to power from a fertile political base.
Chan, a former special assistant to the prime minister, said, “A month ago people abused [Khan and the PTI government] because of inflation.
“Now they say he stood up for a proud and independent Pakistan.”