Imran Khan’s Debacle: Will India Gain?

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Hi, This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing his biggest political crisis and he could be on his way out very soon. The opposition has come together in Pakistan and moved a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan in parliament, and it is a vote that he is very likely to lose. There are many factors working against Imran Khan this time. First of all, the opposition has come together like never before. To make things worse, about two dozen MPs of his own party are revolting against Imran Khan. And to make things even worse, the all-powerful army is apparently no longer backing Imran Khan.

Khan held a show of strength on Sunday in Islamabad, where he invoked the infamous foreign hand theory, claiming that foreign powers were involved in a conspiracy to topple his government. It’s a refrain we’ve often heard South Asian leaders resorting to. In a marathon speech that lasted 90 minutes, Khan asserted that he has a letter as evidence to support his claims. So, how and why did the darling of the Pakistan army turn into a pariah for them?

When Imran Khan was elected in 2018, it was widely believed that it had been made possible with the help of Pakistan’s powerful military. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or the PTI won 155 out of a total of 342 seats in Pakistan’s parliament, which is called the National Assembly. Imran Khan managed to get 179 MPs or members of the National Assembly to cross the majority mark. He secured the support of 24 MPs belonging to six different political parties. It’s no secret that the Army and the ISI, that’s the country’s intelligence agency, call the shots in Pakistan, where democracy has largely been a sham for many decades.

No Pakistani Prime Minister has completed five years in office. When the former cricket captain took office, he made his good ties with the army a major selling point to the people, telling them that he could focus on governance because his government and the army were on the same page. And Imran Khan was more than happy for the army to take the lead on all key issues, whether it was domestic or foreign policy, while he happily played second fiddle in the background. But then Pakistan’s economy got into trouble, major trouble, and the popularity of the government began to wane. His 2018 election campaign was largely about weeding out corruption and providing employment. But two years later, inflation had shot up to record highs at well over 12%, with prices of essential goods soaring through the roof. The Pakistani rupee has fallen to nearly half its value since Imran Khan became Prime Minister. Khan did try to soften that blow by reducing the prices of fuel and electricity but it has not been enough. Experts say the pandemic played its part over the last couple of years, but that the government’s policies have been at the root of the country’s economic mismanagement.

Imran Khan’s own rhetoric has also caught up with him. In 2018, he said very boldly that he would not resort to external borrowing in an attempt to end Pakistan’s cycle of debt. He accused previous governments of going to external agencies with what he called a “begging bowl”. However, in 2019, as the economic crisis deepened, he had to eat his own words and strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout. A billion dollars was released by the IMF just last month. But perhaps Imran Khan’s biggest mistake was to take on the powerful Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Last year, General Bajwa decided to transfer a number of his top generals. But Imran Khan did not want the then ISI chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed, to be moved out. General Hameed was once close to the Army chief, General Bajwa, but had fallen out with him after several controversies. For three weeks, Imran Khan refused to sign off on the appointment of the new ISI chief, Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum. He did do it in the end but the trust with the military had broken down. This is what raised a red flag for the army, which in Pakistan does not approve of generals who build their own relationships with politicians. Within the army, there was a concern that Imran Khan would help General Hameed become Army Chief, while Hameed would help Imran Khan in his re-election run in 2023. Sensing that he had lost the crucial support of the army, this is when the opposition in Pakistan really got its act together and was emboldened to bring forward a no-confidence motion against him in the National Assembly on the 8th of March. Ironically, no civilian government in Pakistan has ever been removed through a confidence vote. India will be watching all these developments closely. Ties with Imran Khan have been cold, to say the least. The army calls the shots on India anyway and will always continue to do so. Whatever happens next is going to send Pakistan into a further spiral of chaos, instability and uncertainty.

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