Political Downfall of Imran Khan


Photo source: Guardian

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The demise of Imran Khan as prime minister was a result of an intra-elite struggle after a no-confidence vote was passed in the parliament in April 2022. It was not based on mass people mobilisation, as seen in the late 1960s, and 1980s, or more recently in 2007-08. As ‘electables’ switched sides in the parliament, his opponents got newer reasons to find flagrant faults in his so-called ‘hybrid regime’, which include enforced disappearances of activists, the vicious restrictions on media freedom, the convictions and harassment of political opponents, and the wide, cordial space given to religious extremists.

As per Azeem Ibrahim's article in Foreign Policy, some of Khan's allies even controversially allege that 'the intra-elite struggle' in the parliament was initiated by the Pakistani military, as his government was insufficiently respectful towards China's interests in the country, including audits of some CPEC projects, that angered Chinese officials and Pakistan's military aligned business elite. Historically, the military had cuddled up to Khan in beginning in the early 2010s, first using him and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to pressure the governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from the street and later, in 2018, installing him in power in an election, which by some was considered as rigged. Derisively, the PTI’s social base, primarily composed of the urban middle class and elite, has historically supported the military’s interventions in politics. 

Khan is also 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 2021, simmering civil-military tensions exploded in public view when Khan tried to retain Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed as the military spy chief. Imran Khan had rejected General Bajwa’s nominee, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, who was eventually appointed as the new director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, but the weeklong turmoil turned ominous.

In Pakistan’s past, the songs of the military were played in such a way that they want to do business with people with shared interests, as they are threatened by a popular alternative. With time a tussle ensued, the military won, and the civilian government was deposed. 

Imran Khan, the self-styled ‘anti politician’ is back in the political wilderness now. He seems to be abandoned by his coalition allies, has had an impetus to do untraditional things, which will make his encore to power not really easy. He tried to be mercurial, had shunned his idealism, but his populism turned out to be his vulnerability, too. Also, he couldn’t nurture his coalition partners well. Ironically, one of his ex-alliance partners MQM notoriously run protection rackets and armed gangs who rob in public in the region of Karachi. Commenting on the Kashmir issue while staying silent on the oppression of Uyghur Muslims to keep economic interests with China alive also showed his hypocrisy. Over the course of time, Khan also did nothing to dispel clientelism in Pakistan's political arena. Stories of corruption also kept on coming from PTI-controlled areas, hinting at hollow promises by PTI leaders. According to Tariq Ali's article in New Left Review, Khan had given membership to advisers and fixers who were deeply secured in the corrupt system, having previously worked with every other political grouping. They constituted a band of careerists, many close to the army, whose loyalties were liable to shift the moment they felt the change in the air.

His ousting was almost theatrical. Pakistani writer, Mohammed Hanif wrote in a Guardian Oped with a dash of sarcasm: ‘He turned a banal parliamentary procedure into a nerve racking, edge of the seat thriller. He behaved like a child who realises for the first time that other children have birthdays too. Because he believed that if he wasn’t in charge of the house, he might as well burn it down.’ Although political analyst Askari Rizvi believes that Khan is still popular among the Pakistani youth, and if he sells his ‘anti-American’ sentiment right, he might come back in a big way. His demise, however, also shows how turbulent Pakistani politics is, as no prime minister has completed a full term in the office. Even Imran Khan’s worst critics didn’t anticipate the demise of his political fairy-tale like this.

According to an Oped in Dawn by Fahd Hussain: ‘The rise of PTI the phenomenon was triggered by the inability of the mainstream parties to evolve into mature organisations willing and able to transform Pakistani society in sync with the aspirations of its people.’ But that also doesn’t mean that PTI hasn’t done mistakes. It should redeem itself from them in the forty-three months they ruled Pakistan. Its critics argue that its downfall was rooted in its dysfunctional decision-making, and that’s why it got kicked around and whipped due to its own contradictions. Hence, PTI will mirror Pakistani society, both in good ways and bad ways, but what’s important for PTI in the future will be to purge leading with the bad example. As a matter of fact, PTI had mustered support from big shots in the establishment, and its rise was a combination of inorganic and organic elements, which led to powerful populist outcomes in the rallies, starting mainly in 2011.

A deepening economic crisis also contributed to his bad times with double-digit inflation dogging much of his tenure. In February 2022, when Imran Khan announced a cut in domestic fuel, and electricity prices despite a global rise, it crippled middle-class dwellers and even resulted in malnutrition. That's why the opposition had gained momentum. The move had piled further pressure on Pakistan’s chronic fiscal deficit and balance-of-payment troubles. As of now, apart from hyperinflation, depleting foreign reserves is another problem which Pakistan faces.

Conversely, after meeting Putin to seal trade deals in February 2022, Khan even alleged that there was a US plot to remove him, as a punishment for his Russia trip, and neutral foreign policy. The US state department, however, reacted that there was no truth in such allegations. Although Donald Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, allegedly warned Khan that there would be consequences if he managed to survive the impending no-confidence motion. 


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