Imran Khan’s tumultuous tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan has come to an end, after weeks of political drama and days of constitutional chaos.
The landmark Supreme Court verdict on Thursday night restored a parliament that Khan had sought to dissolve and ordered a vote of no confidence that he sought to avoid.
Khan effectively had a choice: resign or be removed from office.
The former prime minister’s political demise was rooted in new twin realities. In parliament, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had lost the support of coalition allies, denying it the majority it needed to defeat the vote of no confidence.
Outside parliament, Khan appeared to be losing the support of Pakistan’s powerful military, which the opposition says helped him win the 2018 general election, and had recently publicly fallen out with the prime minister over appointments. military and political decisions.
The PTI and the army have denied these allegations.
In recent weeks, as the main opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have intensified their efforts to unseat Khan, coalition allies have expressed their dissatisfaction with him.
“As far as governance is concerned, the government has totally failed,” said Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a coalition ally that withdrew support for Khan in late March.
“There has been dissatisfaction over the past two years,” Kakar added. “The party [BAP] was unhappy with his share in the federal government and the ministerial portfolio assigned to him.
The bad mood among Khan’s former allies was echoed by Nadeem Afzal Chan, a special assistant to the prime minister who resigned from his post and joined the opposition PPP in early March.
“I was impressed with Khan’s anti-corruption platform and was fed up with the status quo,” Chan said. “But then I saw that while Khan spoke publicly about the poor, privately he surrounded himself with wealthy investors.”
A deepening economic crisis contributed to Khan’s discontent with double-digit inflation lasting much of his tenure.
In February, as opposition against Khan grew, the prime minister announced a drop in domestic fuel and electricity prices despite a global hike, pledging to freeze prices until the end fiscal year in June.
The move increased pressure on Pakistan’s chronic budget deficit and balance of payments problems. This week, the rupee fell to historic lows against the US dollar and the State Bank of Pakistan raised interest rates sharply in an emergency meeting.
“Part of it was the situation they inherited from the previous government and part of it was of course COVID,” said Shahrukh Wani, an economist at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. “But the government quickly fell in fighting the fires and reforms were never undertaken.”
For former Khan allies such as Chan, constituency voter discontent had turned. “Inflation, fertilizer shortages, the local Punjab government, the police, all of that was too much,” Chan said.
In parliament, the loss of support from allies turned the numbers upside down for Khan. The BAP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and 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 back 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 a number of dissident PTI parliamentarians.
Meanwhile, the economy remains in a precarious state. Miftah Ismail, a former PML-N finance minister tipped to take over the post he held in 2018, said: “The two biggest economic challenges facing Pakistan right now are high inflation and tight foreign exchange reserves. wear out quickly.
“The difficulty is that because the currency has been devalued due to the dwindling reserves, it is causing even more inflation.”
Role of the army
With Khan’s exit confirmed, the former allies are increasingly outspoken about the third prong of Pakistani politics: civil-military relations.
Parliamentary support for the Prime Minister began to dissolve when the military signaled that it would not side with Khan against the opposition, a policy known as neutrality.
“When the establishment became neutral, the allies saw that the government would not survive,” said Senator Kakar of the BAP. “Once the sight was established 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 fallen out with the military over key appointments and foreign policy.
In October, simmering civil-military tensions exploded into public view when Khan attempted to retain Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed as military spy chief, rejecting the army chief’s candidate, Gen. Qamar Bajwa.
General Bajwa’s candidate, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, was eventually named the new director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, but the weeks-long stalemate has been deadly and worrying.
General Bajwa’s second term as army chief will end in November, with General Hameed being one of the senior generals eligible to replace him. Pakistani Prime Minister appoints army chief.
Khan’s attempt to reforge ties with the United States, Pakistan’s biggest trading partner and an unstable ally which the military has sought to maintain as an important partner, has also been extraordinary.
In February, in pursuit of what Khan described as a neutral foreign policy, Khan visited Russia to seek trade deals on the eve of the 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 national pivot. Facing defeat in the no-confidence vote in parliament, Khan alleged a US-led plot to impeach him as punishment for his trip to Russia and his neutral foreign policy.
As evidence of the plot, Khan waved a letter at a public rally in Islamabad on March 27, claiming that the United States had issued a diplomatic warning to Pakistan to remove him as prime minister.
The diplomatic missive, the alleged US threat and Khan’s assertion that the defiance was part of a US-led plot have rocked Pakistani 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. Answer [in the military] is mixed as to whether it should have been used to meddle in the vote of no confidence.
General Abbas also described a number of differences between Khan and military rulers that had accumulated during Khan’s tenure, including political and economic mismanagement by Khan that acted as a drag on Khan’s public image. the army.
On Khan’s opposition to military operations in Pakistan and to US-led wars internationally since the September 11 attacks, General Abbas said: “The Prime Minister’s position on the war against terrorism is that we fought the American war and suffered losses in men and material. The military view was that it was a fallout from the war in Afghanistan and we had no choice.
“The pressure on military leaders is that if this was America’s war, then all the sacrifices of young officers and soldiers were a waste,” Abbas said.
Another retired military official, Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry, suggested that tensions with the military were also about Khan’s style of government.
“On political issues, Khan could be mercurial. There was no predictability or stability. Imran Khan is a populist, it is also his vulnerability.
Beaten inside parliament and defeated outside, Khan is unlikely to be a politically exhausted force, however. The cyclical nature of Pakistani politics has seen former prime ministers bounce back.
Khan also has the advantage of reclaiming his path to power from a fertile political base.
Chan, the former special assistant to the prime minister, said: “A month ago people were abusing [Khan and the PTI government] for inflation.
“Now they say he stood up for a proud and independent Pakistan.”