Imran Khan Ousted as Pakistan’s Prime Minister

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Imran Khan, the former international cricketer turned politician and who oversaw a new era of Pakistani foreign policy that kept the country at a distance from the United States, was removed as prime minister early on Sunday after he passed a vote of no confidence. lost in parliament.

The vote, which took place amid rising inflation and a rift between Mr Khan’s government and the military, capped a political crisis that gripped the country for weeks and was reflected in a parliamentary session that lasted into the early morning hours continued. Pakistan remains in a state of turmoil as it heads into early election season in the coming months.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country with the world’s second largest Muslim population, has struggled with instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. While no Prime Minister in Pakistan has ever served a full five-year term, Mr. Khan the first to be impeached by a vote of no confidence.

The motion to remove Mr Khan was passed with 174 votes, two more than the required simple majority.

Analysts expect lawmakers to elect opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, a member of a Pakistani political dynasty, as interim prime minister until the next general election, likely in October. Mr Khan is also expected to participate in those elections.

The vote in parliament started just before midnight on Saturday, after a chaotic day of political squabbles in the capital Islamabad, when Mr Khan’s allies appeared to be trying to delay a decision – fueling fears the military would intervene.

Late Saturday night, when the two political factions were at an impasse, the country’s powerful army chief met Mr Khan.

The Supreme Court also said it would open at midnight should the court intervene. Police officers and prison vans waited outside the parliament building to prevent the proceedings from turning violent.

At 11:45 p.m., lawmakers in Mr Khan’s political coalition stormed out of the National Assembly hall in protest at the vote of no confidence.

Opposition lawmakers then passed the vote of no confidence.

Mr Khan has repeatedly said the opposition’s actions against him were part of a US-backed conspiracy to remove him from power and called on his supporters to protest on Sunday.

“Your future is at stake,” Mr Khan said in a televised address on Friday night. “If you do not take a stand to protect our country’s sovereignty, we will remain submissive.” He added: “The nation must rise together to save Pakistan.”

Khan, 69, had turned his athletic fame into a populist political career, promising to rid the country of endemic corruption, get the sputtering economy back on track and build a “new Pakistan” he described as an Islamic welfare state.

But economic realities, including a massive government debt and three consecutive years of double-digit inflation, thwarted his plans and undermined his popularity. Tackling corruption turned out to be easier said than done. His shift away from the West and closer to China and Russia was polarizing.

And, perhaps most crucially, he appeared to have lost the support of the country’s powerful military in a dispute over his leadership.

That paved the way for a coalition of opposition parties to draft a no-confidence motion last month. But in a stunning attempt to block the vote, he and his allies dissolved Parliament moments before it was expected to take place on April 3.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Mr Khan’s decision violated the Constitution and ordered the vote to continue on Saturday.

The public rebuke of his leadership by both the courts and the country’s lawmakers, including some of his allies, cost him considerable political capital and eroded the aura of intransigence he had maintained for years.

But in a country where ousted political leaders are known to return in Acts 2 and even 3, Khan has shown no signs of withdrawing, and most analysts expect him to run for office in the next election.

“I don’t think Imran is outside of Pakistani politics,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, a political analyst at SOAS University of London. “He’s already in a better position. He’s completely distracted from inflation, from the economy, to this issue of foreign conspiracy, and it benefits him.”

Born to a wealthy family in Lahore, Mr Khan first rose to fame in the late 1970s as an international cricketer and became the face of the sport at a time when cricketers from the former British Empire began to regularly beat their former colonizer . Mr Khan helped lead Pakistan to win the Cricket World Cup in 1992 – the country’s greatest sporting achievement.

His success on the cricket pitch and his upbringing in the upper class gave him a life of privilege and glamour. During the eighties, Mr. Khan became a fixture in the fashionable London crowd, and he acquired a reputation as a playboy.

In 1996 he turned to politics, founding his own party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, branding himself as a reformer and promising an alternative to Pakistan’s entrenched political dynasties.

Despite his massive popularity and appeal, he struggled for over a decade to make a political breakthrough. He was mocked for his political ambitions and for the blatant contradictions between his lavish lifestyle and his attempts to rebrand himself as a devout Muslim who identified with the poor and denied his English-speaking peers.

But by 2011, Mr Khan seemed to be finding his political footing. His rallies began to draw hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis from the urban middle class and educated young people who were dissatisfied with the system and energized by his populist, anti-corruption message and his criticism of the United States.

In 2018, he was elected prime minister – a victory many of his rivals attributed to a backroom deal with the military. Politicians with other parties described a campaign of coercion and intimidation by the security forces that effectively narrowed the electoral field and conveyed the message that opposition to Mr Khan was strongly discouraged. Military officials have denied those allegations, as have Mr Khan and his aides.

But analysts said he also promised too much and supported disjointed, often contradictory policies: he supported a deregulated, free-market economy but also a welfare state. He publicly opposed Islamist militancy, but his government and military establishment provided a safe haven for the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan.

In a desperate attempt to stabilize the economy, he turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout in 2019, a move many saw as a betrayal of his election pledge to never take foreign loans and aid.

As criticism of his leadership mounted, Khan’s government led a growing crackdown on dissent. Opposition parties criticized his anti-corruption drive as one-sided, accusing him of retaliating against his opponents, while turning a blind eye to accusations circulating around his cabinet members and close friends. Yet, unlike many of his predecessors, he has not been accused of corruption himself.

Human rights groups criticized his government for its crackdown on the media in particular. Several prominent journalists known to criticize Mr Khan lost their jobs; others were harassed, detained and threatened in organized social media campaigns, according to Human Rights Watch.

Still, his supporters have defended his track record, including handing out government subsidies, building shelters and soup kitchens for the poor, and providing health care to low- and middle-income households.

During his tenure, Pakistan has weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively well, sparing the devastation seen in some other parts of the world, despite early problems with an overwhelmed and understaffed healthcare system. Mr Khan attributed the success to a well-coordinated national effort, bolstered by the help of the military.

But his foreign policy decisions became a point of contention.

Seeking greater independence from the West, he withdrew from the so-called war on terror. Last June he said Pakistan would… “absolutely not” allow the CIA bases in Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, before US troops and officials completely withdrew from the country, he praised Afghans for having “the chains of slavery broken

But the critical blow to his leadership came last year after Pakistani military leaders appeared to withdraw support, undermining the political stability he had enjoyed for most of his tenure.

In recent months, the military establishment has loosened its grip on opposition parties, analysis says, paving the way for the no-confidence vote. Days before the vote was set to take place last Sunday, Mr Khan appeared to have lost a majority in parliament and was faced with requests to resign.

But he remained defiant, accusing his opponents of being pawns in a US-led plot to remove him, and claiming that a communiqué from a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States contained evidence of a conspiracy. He urged Pakistanis to stand up to the “forces of evil” and urged them to oppose his opponents, whom he called “slaves of America.”

Shehbaz Sharif is expected to take over as interim prime minister until the next general election. Mr Sharif is the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Prime Minister of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province in the country.

The interim government he is expected to lead will present significant challenges, from soaring inflation to an increasingly polarized political climate that could lead to unrest on the streets.

“This crisis has created serious problems for Pakistan regarding its economy, political polarization and our foreign policy,” said Ijaz Khan, former chair of the International Relations Department at the University of Peshawar. “Leading the country out of there will be a serious challenge for any future government.”

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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