Is Imran Khan about to lose power in Pakistan?
Political crisis in Pakistan
Pakistan is in political turmoil as the South Asian country awaits a key court ruling that will decide whether embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plan for an early election can go ahead.
Khan will now face a no-confidence vote by politicians that he tried to avoid after the parliament deputy speaker threw out the no-confidence motion earlier this week.
The National Assembly is scheduled to meet on Saturday and the opposition looks certain to unseat Khan.
Khan will have to step down if 172 members of the 342-member house vote against him. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has already lost the majority in parliament. More than 190 legislators voted against Khan in an apparent mock session that was held by the opposition on April 3.
“My message to our nation is I have always and will continue to fight for Pak till the last ball,” the former national cricket team captain on Twitter after the top court’s decision which has been dubbed as “historic”.
The embattled leader has summoned a meeting of the federal cabinet as well as of the PTI lawmakers to chalk out a future course of action.
The PM is also scheduled to address the nation on Friday evening in which, some suggest, he could announce his resignation.
Either way, after the Supreme Court’s decision, unless something dramatic occurs, like a forced cling to power through the military, Imran Khan looks certain to lose power in Pakistan.
Opposition towards Khan
There have been several factors that have stirred up opposition towards Khan in recent months. Pakistan’s struggling economy and inflation appear to have frustrated many, while Khan claims that the US is attempting to depose him due to Pakistan’s drift away from the former in its foreign policy, towards the east.
According to a recent report published by Pakistan-based English daily The News International, the prices of clothes, footwear along with transportation costs in Pakistan saw a big jump last month.
As per the data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) on Friday, the figure was 9.1% in the same month in 2021.
The South Asian country’s nine-month (July-March 2021-22) average inflation was reported at 10.77% compared to 8.34% during the same period of last year.
Of the things with hiked prices, food and beverages have the most significant share of 34.58%, while utility charges – housing, water, electricity, and fuel – stand at 23.63%. Meanwhile, urban inflation rose by 11.9% on a year-on-year (YoY) basis in March 2022 compared to an increase of 11.5% in the previous month and 8.7% in March 2021.
To put things into perspective, during March, chicken prices rose by 33.6%, fruits 15.17%, mustard oil 8.73%, vegetable ghee 8.32%, onions 7.01%, cooking oil 5.05%, and liquefied hydrocarbons by 7.8% among a host of other essential commodities.
The recent dramatic rise in priced is just the final straw and effect of the major economic problems that Pakistan has faced in recent years, and which the Khan government has been struggling to mitigate.
The Khan administration inherited a virtually empty Treasury, a broken tax system and barely two months’ worth of foreign exchange reserves. To deal with Pakistan’s external debts, the Khan government hiked up the prices of power and fuel, bearing most heavily on the poor. Popular anger was inevitable, and Khan has certainly not solved all the country’s problems.
Nevertheless, Khan has done reasonably well given the need to deal (alongside every other world leader) with the Covid-19 pandemic. Pakistan was one of the few countries that managed to reduce its debt despite the significant impact of COVID on public finances, said Finance Division in its statement issued last week.
In the statement, the Finance division said that the article “Public debt soars by Rs18 trillion” published in the section of media is misleading and the author’s comparison of the 2008 to 2022 period fails to take into account the significant changes in the size of the economy.
The economy’s capacity to take loans today is higher than compared to previous years due to the significant increase in the size of the GDP. A better analysis would have focused on the public debt as a percentage of GDP, the standard indicator used by all international publications, it said
Public debt as a percentage of GDP decreased to 72% in the fiscal year 2021, from 76.6% in FY2020. Pakistan was one of the few countries that managed to reduce its debt despite the significant impact of COVID on public finances. According to the latest published data, public debt to GDP is estimated to have declined further to 67% of GDP as of December 2021. In real terms, the increase in public debt during the 2018-2022 period is around 3.3% of GDP, which is less than the debt accumulated during the 2013 to 2018 period of 8.2% of GDP.
Despite this, Pakistan’s economic predicament has left it dependent on its creditors, especially Saudi Arabia and China, two regimes with ruling principles far different from its own. This dependence is the main reason why Khan has not spoken out publicly against Chinese maltreatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Khan has also been silent on the ongoing tragedy in Yemen, where hundreds of thousands of people have died as a direct or indirect result of the Saudi-led war, limiting the independence of its foreign policy, while also amplifying existing economic woes.
In another twist to this story, Khan has revealed that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu had sent a threatening message to him through Pakistan’s envoy Ambassador Asad Majeed.
“US had sent a threatening message through Pakistan’s envoy,” Dawn quoting Imran Khan reported. During his remarks that were televised, Imran Khan told them that when the National Security Council (NSC) had condemned the involvement of an external force in no-trust resolution, counting (of votes on the motion) had become “irrelevant”.
Although no concrete evidence has been presented, it would definitely be in the US’s interest to fuel the fire of political dissent in Pakistan, since its attempts to bring Khan back to the US-aligned foreign policy that previous governments have maintained, appears hopeless.
As Khan’s dissolution of parliament and call for snap elections have both failed, it appears Imran Khan has played his last cards.
There are signs of another political crisis in the making amid fears that a prolonged impasse could undermine the country’s fragile democracy.
Senator Faisal Javed Khan of the PTI said PM Khan was going to make an “important announcement” in the evening that will turn the opposition’s victory into defeat.
Professor Tahir Malik, who teaches international relations at a university in the capital Islamabad, told Al Jazeera that “Khan can resign but he should instead play the role of an opposition leader in the parliament”.
Malik added that Khan was still a popular leader and he [Khan] wanted to go for fresh elections with a narrative that he was a defender of the national interest.
On Thursday, the Pakistani rupee fell to an all-time low against the US dollar amid the political crisis.
“The stock market rose by 1.6 percent in early trading on Friday,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited security brokerages, told Al Jazeera.
“Markets need clarity on the political front and the Supreme Court decision has provided that,” Abbas said, adding that the rupee had also bounced back in the morning.
Khan said on Friday he would not recognise an opposition government if it succeeded in an attempt to oust him, the latest twist in a political crisis engulfing the nuclear-armed nation.
“I will not accept an imported government,” he said in a late-night address, suggesting the move to oust him was part of a foreign conspiracy and calling for peaceful protests on Sunday.
“I’m ready for a struggle.”The election commission has said the earliest it can hold elections is in October, which means any new government will have to deal with pressing economic issues before that.