By Dhananjay Tripathi Imran Khan, Pakistan’s hero of the 1992 World Cup cricket team, who till late appeared to bat well in politics too, suddenly got himself into a difficult situation. In the last few months, he was under mounting political pressure on his government by the opposition parties. Khan, after making all kinds of […]
By Dhananjay Tripathi
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s hero of the 1992 World Cup cricket team, who till late appeared to bat well in politics too, suddenly got himself into a difficult situation. In the last few months, he was under mounting political pressure on his government by the opposition parties. Khan, after making all kinds of efforts to save his political skin, finally was compelled to resign as the Prime Minister after a no-confidence vote against his government was passed in Pakistan’s National Assembly.
Khan was elected as Pakistan’s Prime Minister on August 18, 2018, and officially his tenure was till 2023 but just like his predecessors, he too failed to complete five years in office. He became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan who lost a no-confidence vote. Before Khan, Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz faced a no-confidence vote but succeeded in defeating it comfortably.
Imran Khan was in office for 3 years and 235 days, and over the last three months, problems for him multiplied. Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in early February, announced to bring a no-confidence motion against the Imran Khan government. Although initially it was not accorded serious consideration by Khan, the opposition parties in a very concerted manner kept consolidating their position by breaking his alliance partners and building numbers necessary for his ouster.
After the exit of Khan, Mian Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan. Shehbaz Sharif is the younger brother of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Is it the Army?
Whenever it comes to Pakistani politics, it goes without saying that such a drastic change is just not possible without clearance from the General Headquarters, Rawalpindi. Notably, Khan enjoyed the Pakistani army’s confidence and this is the reason why he was criticised by his opponents as a ‘selected not an elected PM’. It has been said that Khan was trying to politically assert himself like some of his predecessors, and this did not go down well with the Pakistani army.
One of the most visible differences between Khan and the army was during the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Khan was in a celebratory mood and equated the Taliban’s return as “broken the shackles of slavery”. The Pakistani army, which fully backed the Taliban, still wanted to be cautious as any immediate endorsement of the Taliban would have raised eyebrows in Western capitals. Even to date, Western nations and international institutions are not keen on diplomatically recognising the Taliban. The policy is to wait and watch and test the Taliban not by words but by its deeds.
Khan had shown haste and despite reservations from the army sent the Director-General of the ISI to Kabul during the formation of the interim Taliban government. The visual of Faiz Hameed in Kabul led to several speculations about the Taliban, one of which was that Hameed was there to broker a peace deal between Mullah Baradar and Haqqani groups. Hameed’s visit made it clear that the Pakistani army is in full control of the Taliban.
Later, when Chief of the Pakistani army General Qamar Javed Bajwa appointed Lt General Nadeem Anjum as the new ISI chief, Khan was reportedly reluctant to sign the official notification. General Bajwa had to discuss this appointment with Khan, who later succumbed to the pressure. This upset the army chief. More importantly, Khan did not readily accept the extension of General Bajwa’s tenure in 2019, and he publicly stated that he had not thought about it. Finally, General Bajwa’s tenure was extended till November 2022. Owing to the differences with Khan, some experts are of the view that General Bajwa wanted Khan to exit office before November 2022. There are also reports that Khan attempted, just before his departure, to remove General Bajwa.
While it is difficult to draw a straight line between the unceremonial departure of Khan and the role of the army, there are several indications to draw an inference that the army was not in his favour.
Another issue that captured headlines was the allegation of Khan that his removal as Prime Minister was planned on the behest of the United States of America. He kept talking about a letter, in which a US diplomat, purportedly mentioned Khan’s removal. ‘Foreign hand’ was repeatedly invoked by Khan during the no-confidence motion debate.
Khan was also recently in Russia, shaking hands with President Vladimir Putin. Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the West is quite unhappy with Putin and at that juncture, Khan ’s pictures with Putin were not appreciated by many.
Shifting international relations, with increasing animosity between the West and Russia, has given some credence to Khan’s conspiracy theory. Although, on a careful analysis, it is irrational to accept that Washington is behind the change in political leadership in Pakistan. At present, the US is slowly withdrawing from world politics. The surprising withdrawal from Afghanistan and not sending direct military assistance to Ukraine are some examples of changes in the US foreign policy.
While the US is still the number one world power, both in military and economic terms, it is now inclined to focus internally and not indulge in geopolitical conflicts in other parts of the world. Thus, there is a lack of rationale that Washington had plotted with others in Pakistan to oust Khan from his office.
In Pakistan, conspiracy theories are not new, and a lot on this theme is written by former diplomat and academic Husain Haqqani. Interestingly, Pakistan relied so much on the US during the cold war, and relies even today, but in its domestic politics, there is always a substantial anti-US sentiment. Khan wants to encash this, but only time will tell if he succeeds in his efforts.
All said and done, Khan has travelled a long distance in politics, from being in opposition to enjoying the support of the army, to finally being forced to resign. If one carefully reads a few of his speeches from the past, it is clear that he was preparing for another election.
Khan attempted to scuttle the voting on the no-confidence motion till the last minute. He wanted to have the election under the rule of an interim government but failed. Considering the history of politics in Pakistan, it will not be a shock if we see some big corruption cases against him getting investigated — and it has already started. Khan in the worst-case scenario may end up in jail, just like Nawaz Sharif.
The best for Khan is to cut some deals with the army, request clemency and continue in national politics, Interestingly, during the entire debate, India was referred to both by Khan and the army but not in negative terms. Still, let us not draw a conclusion in haste and assume that Pakistan’s polity has changed its position on India.
The ouster of Imran Khan from his office before the completion of his tenure is another jolt to democracy in Pakistan. The power of the Pakistani army is again proved and this is not good for democracy. Every major Pakistani political party is guilty of flirting with the army and it is now clear that none of them has learned their lessons well.
• Imran Khan was elected as Pakistan’s Prime Minister on August 18, 2018, and officially his tenure was till 2023
• Just like all his predecessors, he too failed to complete five years of office; was in the office for 3 years and 235 days
• Is the first Prime Minister of Pakistan who lost a no-confidence vote. Before him, Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz defeated no-confidence vote comfortably
• Khan’s government was praised internationally for managing the pandemic with ‘smart lockdowns’ that protected the important construction industry, which provides jobs to the poorest
• His anti-corruption reputation encouraged Pakistanis abroad to send money home, returning $29.4 billion in 2020-21
• The International Monetary Fund revived negotiations with Islamabad for the $6 billion loan programme. It had already provided $1 billion under the programme
• The Islamic Development Bank expects Pakistan’s gross domestic product to slow to 4% from 5.6% last year, and inflation to rise from 8.9% in 2021 to about 11% this year
• Foreign exchange reserves are at $11.3 billion. This is after the UAE agreed to roll over $2 billion debt for one year
• Pakistan’s external debt surged to over $130 billion by the end of December 2021. It will have to pay back foreign debt of $2.5 in the next two months
(The author is Senior Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi)
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