Pakistan’s National Assembly was scheduled to hold a vote of No-Confidence against the sitting prime minister, Imran Khan, today on Sunday 3rd April. The otherwise fierce opponents within the Opposition have set aside their differences to present a united front against Khan and have claimed to have secured 172 votes, the minimum number required to win the vote of No-Confidence in the National Assembly, which has a total of 342 seats.
Imran Khan, international cricketer and philanthropist-turned politician, launched the political party Tehreek-e-Insaaf (The Justice Movement) in 1996. Without any backing from the power corridors of Pakistan’s establishment or an established political party, it was a long and arduous journey for Imran Khan to move up from winning no seat in the 1997 elections to becoming the largest national party in the last elections held in 2018.
Khan inherited an economy which was reeling on its knees and was about to collapse. Had it not been for the credit facilities extended by the strategic allies of Pakistan, China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the IMF bailout program for Pakistan for the record 22nd time since 1950s, Pakistan’s economy would have collapsed within weeks. However, these loans came at a high cost both in terms of the interest rates and the stiff conditions attached to the IMF program. One of the conditions was to let Pakistan’s national currency, the Pakistani Rupee, float freely and its exchange rate to be determined by market forces rather than manipulated artificially by the interventions of the Central Bank in the open market, which had kept the exchange rate under control in the past. This condition saw the Rupee fall freely losing its value rapidly from low 120s per USD to the mid 180s now. This fuelled inflation because Pakistan is a net importer with Oil as the largest imported commodity.
While Khan’s newly elected government was grappling with the economic woes because of the mismanagement for at least three decades of the previous governments, Indian Airforce jets entered Pakistan airspace in February 2019 and bombed alleged terrorist hideouts in the Pakistan side of Kashmir. Under direct orders of Imran Khan, Pakistan Airforce retaliated with full force and gunned down at least two Indian Airforce fighters, killing at least one pilot, and capturing another. The captured pilot was released a few days later as a gesture of goodwill, but the events leading up to the Indian attack and the aftermath distracted the government from its economic agenda of arresting the rising cost of living for the common man. The Opposition parties jumped on the opportunity and blamed the government for failing to address inflation.
Then came Covid in 2019, which put brakes on the economic progress the country had just started making. The poor who were barely managing to make ends meet before Covid slumped into abject poverty because of closures of shops and business places. The Opposition once again seized the opportunity to start the blame game. However, because of what I would argue is foresight on behalf of Khan and his cabinet, businesses were ordered to shut down for a few hours only unlike in the neighbouring countries of India and Bangladesh where businesses were completely shut down for months. This allowed businesses in Pakistan to continue to run albeit at reduced capacity which saw many export orders diverted from India and Bangladesh to Pakistan in the Textiles industry because of limited production capacity in those counties. Workers’ remittances also grew substantially because of increased confidence of non-resident Pakistanis in the transparency of the PTI government pushing the Current Account deficit to historic lows. Tax collection, which has been the biggest bane for Pakistan, also showed sharp increase because of new management, renewed policies and swift actions taken against defaulters. Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) recently reported an increase of 30% from July last year to February this year, when compared to the same period last year.
Imran Khan stood for an independent foreign policy protecting the interests of his own country unlike his predecessors who followed the directives issued from outside. Being a vocal critic of America’s “War on Terror”, Khan was fast losing respect with the American Administration. Soon after the change of guard in the White House, things became much worse when a Pakistani court ordered release of four men convicted of decapitating an American journalist, Daniel Pearl. The President of the USA did not invite Khan to the Climate Summit last April and reports said that Biden did not speak with Khan even once over the phone.
Just as the economy was coming out of doldrums and was gaining some respectability, the USA decided to leave Afghanistan last August in haste, which saw a swift defeat of the Afghan forces at the hands of the Taliban. Pakistan again came under fire from the West for allegedly supporting the Taliban in defeating US-backed Afghan forces. Pakistan categorically rejected these allegations. According to reports, the US then requested Pakistan to allow American intelligence and military bases to operate out of Pakistan to which Khan flatly refused by giving his famous response to an American news channel stating, “Absolutely not”. Khan also didn’t mince his words when he publicly condemned America for their flawed role in Afghanistan and he hailed the Taliban as saviours of their country bringing freedom back. It is also reported that on one occasion the Secretary of State of the US government wanted to speak with Imran Khan but he refused to take the call and suggested that he should instead speak with his counterpart, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and demanded that following the diplomatic protocols, only Biden could speak with him. By then, Khan had almost completely fallen out of favour with the US administration.
Pakistan on the other hand continued to strengthen its ties with Russia and China, the former of which recently invaded and attacked Ukraine. 11 members of the EU parliament asked Imran Khan to write a letter of condemnation to Russia’s president Putin for attacking Ukraine but Khan instead preferred to carry on with the previously scheduled state visit to Russia. He refused to write the letter and publicly criticised the EU for demonstrating double standards by not showing the same level of concern and not condemning the Indian government for their oppressive actions in the occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This is said to have sealed the fate of Imran Khan as far as the Western bloc’s patience with Khan was concerned.
In the background, another critical development took place at home, when reportedly a rift developed between Imran Khan and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), chief of the 6th largest army in the world. The COAS, General Bajwa, wanted to appoint General Anjum as the Chief Spy of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), whereas Khan was interested in appointing another General, known to have been close to him for years. While Khan gave in to the demands of COAS after four months, the differences between the two most powerful men in Pakistan were firmly rooted.
Just when the nation thought that the worst was behind them as the economy started coming out of trouble with tax collections rising, balance of payments improving and new projects starting to take shape, suddenly opposition parties got together in February and March of this year with unprecedent coherence and speed and decided to hold a vote of No-Confidence in the parliament against the PM, Imran Khan. The coalition partners of PTI who had helped Khan gain power at the start, quickly started to part ways and even a few members of his own party declared to vote against the PM if the vote took place. Members of the ruling party started accusing the Opposition of dolling out huge sums of money to buy-out allegiances of dissident members of the parliament.
Imran Khan, seeing this onslaught by the Opposition, attempted to demonstrate popular support for him by conducing massive public rallies. It was designed to put pressure on dissident coalition partners and members of his own party to reconsider their decision to cross the floor in the parliament. The Opposition also took out rallies to diffuse the impact of the rallies of the ruling party.
In a massive rally on the 27th in Islamabad, Khan showed a letter to the public, claiming that it was from one of the envoys of Pakistan in a foreign country. The letter said that the foreign country had threatened of dire consequences if the No-Confidence vote was lost in the parliament. Khan accused the Opposition of working as tools for foreign powers and for selling-out their country’s fate for their own selfish motives. The PM has also been given a report of the various contacts made by foreign dignitaries in the last six months with the heads of the Opposition political parties, the coalition partners and the members of his own party, PTI. Khan addressed the nation via live television telecast on the 31st and urged the parliamentarians to listen to the call of their conscience and make the right decision by not voting against him in the No-Confidence vote. He also expressed concerns about the threat to his own life.
Pakistan’s Military, which plays a pivotal role in deciding matters through their influence over political parties, had decided to step aside. It is being said that the lack of support for Imran Khan by the Military despite the very serious allegations of foreign interference in domestic matters of national security, is because of the rift that developed between Khan and the COAS on the appointment of the ISI chief last year.
The Prime Minister was to face the No-Confidence vote today, Sunday the 3rd April. The Opposition claimed to have a lot more than the minimum 172 votes required to win the vote, while Imran Khan remained defiant and expressed his resolve to defeat this “international conspiracy”, and to fight till “the last ball is bowled”.
Khan indeed lived up to his reputation of fighting till the end and giving surprises to his Opposition when the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, from PTI, dismissed the move today dubbing it as unconstitutional. Khan said that he could not accept the No-Confidence move when the whole process was discredited because of the apparent foreign interference. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the President has issued an order for dissolution of National Assemblies and for fresh elections to be held.
This move by the Deputy Speaker has taken everyone by surprise and the Opposition is currently deliberating if the Deputy Speaker’s ruling to disallow the No-Confidence vote can be challenged in the highest Court of Pakistan, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can also take suo moto action against the Deputy Speaker’s ruling. However, the main difficulty for the Opposition to challenge the ruling is the evidence available to the security agencies of Pakistan about foreign involvement and contacts made by the dissident members with foreign envoys. The Court would examine all evidence, and this can be very damaging for the reputation of those involved in this conspiracy.
In another development yesterday, COAS of Pakistan Army condemned actions of Russia in Ukraine and demanded an immediate stop to the war in his tweet, which is a complete shift in the foreign policy led by Imran Khan. It appears that seeing Khan’s imminent ouster, the COAS came out with the line yesterday which the establishment of Pakistan wanted Khan to follow. This gives credibility to Imran Khan’s allegations of foreign powers being behind his attempted removal.
It is a rapidly developing situation. While his supporters will call it resolve and his critics will call it stubbornness, Imran Khan has proved once again that he will not succumb to either national or international pressure to change his stances and policies. He claims that he submits to none other than Allah, and time will tell whether he lives up to this claim.