Weeks-long drama continuing in Pakistan politics has to come an end with the defeat of former Prime Minister Imran Khan by parliamentary vote of no confidence on 9th April. Changes and counter changes in the scene of its domestic politics has revolved so rapidly in its political arena concerning the staying or leaving of Imran Khan as Pakistani Prime Minister. After the final departure of Imran Khan and Mian Muhammad Shahbaz becoming the latest and 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan still rages a serious discussion regarding the present Pakistan politics and its future direction. This article will try to focus on the historical legacy of Pakistan politics and recent developments in the light of Imran Khan’s downfall. We will also try to look into the future of Imran Khan’s political career and his legacy in igniting and mobilizing youths for a new Pakistan.
Recently Imran Khan has been squeezed by the abandonment of coalition allies, being sided by the military leadership, intra-party conflict was also in rise. After a series of political developments in the internal politics of Pakistan, finally parliamentary no-confidence vote has thrown out Imran Khan as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. Almost all the Prime Minister of Pakistan could not complete their terms since its independence in 1947. It has become a legacy in Pakistan not to fulfill the assigned five-year duration. Previously military has openly staged coup but this time military did not directly appear in stage but believed to play their as usual role from the undercover to bring leadership change. However, Imran Khan’s ousting has left Pakistan politics in controversy and deep public recrimination. Protests have been observed all around the country for citing the injustice against Imran Khan and whole country. Most remarkably a number of young men and women have come out on the streets and voicing against the external conspiracy and internal collusion in displacing Imran Khan. It is indeed true that a national cricket team and World Cup winning captain turning politician was not an ordinary thing. He has been engaged for a long time in Pakistan politics without having widespread support behind PTI but built the momentum gradually to become the most popular political party in Pakistan in the recent time. Imran Khan’s journey in politics was in 1996 with the establishment of political party name after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) soon after his massive achievement in winning home ground cricket World Cup as a captain in 1992. Quite remarkably his celebrity image as a cricket player has initially motivated to form PTI. In early days, PTI has been engaged in the struggle for securing justice and governance as corruption and civil order were highly disorganized in those days.
PTI could not gain much from 1996-2008 except Imran Khan’s seat in hometown Minwali in 2002 election. However, Imran Khan has been highly suspicious of the whole political system. He continued his focus on introducing his political party at grassroot level and that slowly but gradually made PTI known to people. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007 led another chapter opening in the history of Pakistan as Nawaz Sharif returned home from exile to compete for election in 2008 with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) marking the end of military rule under General Pervaiz Musharraf. Though Pakistan People’s Party’s Yousaf Raza Gillani won the election. PTI rejected this election citing it as fraudulent and sat for a long strike but without no effective change in leadership. Though it has boosted the volume of membership of PTI as many people started joining the movement of Imran Khan in bringing positive change in Pakistan. However, the growing popularity of Imran Khan was not unrealized until PTI gathered in Lahore in 2011 with approximately 1 lakh people’s participation. Imran Khan’s strong stance on the question of America’s military engagement with Pakistan on US led Afghan war made huge response among Pakistani citizens. He strongly condemned current leadership for keeping deep alignment with USA as it was hurting Pakistani economy and populations. This time PTI genuinely became a dominant force against the bipartisan PPP and Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Though PTI could not bring expected breakthrough in election results in 2013 as well. Nawaz Sharif won the election. This defeat led Imran Khan’s PTI a different realization in its game plan for winning election. PTI has started to increase its closeness with military leadership while nominating key traditional constituency electable figures who have strong presence in patronage politics. Interestingly Imran Khan had been critical of these political figures but real need for PTI to compete with strong counterparts have led to this compromise to include people who are less compatible with Imran Khan’s core values. And most remarkably PTI’s new strategy has worked very perfectly but it had to ally with other members to form a coalition government. Imran Khan has been blamed from the outset of starting that his government is military backed. However, he started to work on his own style that made some consequence. It caused posing challenges to his government coming from internal and external sources. As he came to power with courage and was very keen on transforming the Pakistani long established political system with vested interest and also continued to fight against corruption in every sector in Pakistan. Above all, he wanted to formulate an independent foreign policy by not just being a pawn of the USA. These internal and external policies have made some targeted enemies that costed him to oust from the prime ministers role.
Imran Khan has surely various charismatic traits but many of his good traits are contradictory in the political environment of Pakistan where goodness is punished and immorality is rewarded. His candid expression and strong faith in Islam did not favor at all. Part of coalition has started to collapse and finally in no-confidence vote, he lost to two votes as 174 members out of 342 members voted against Imran Khan. It is widely believed that opposition parties have been engaged with USA in regime change game as Imran Khan distancing him with USA militarily engagement and tilting deeply with other superpowers like China and Russia. Probably Mr. Khan’s visit to Moscow in the middle of Ukraine war has angered USA most and along with internal political crisis, Imran Khan had to move out. Military’s role has also come at fore regarding its role in politics. When the Pakistan military signaled that it would not stand by Imran Khan as being neutral, it also signaled the coalition that Imran Khan will not stay in power anyway. Probably the disfavor of military came as a consequence of disagreement between political leadership and military leadership regarding key national issues and international areas including alliance formation. As a part of domestic inputs, probably the economic condition has impacted more in creating a vibrant opposition against Imran Khan Government. PTI has inherited a broken economy from its predecessor. Mounting pressure of foreign debt with multinational lenders and China were very high. When Imran Khan has increased the fuel and energy price, a dissatisfaction strongly aroused from the public arena. But recent attempt in February in lowering the fuel and electricity price despite increment in global market price has mounted pressure on national economy. Inflation has been over double-digit and the falling price of Pakistani rupee against US Dollar. Price of daily commodities has skyrocketed at the same time giving people a big hardship. Notably, Covid-19 has also deteriorated the situation more rapidly that was beyond Imran Khan and his weak PTI coalition to resolve.
Imran Khan’s departure still makes strong public outcry. Probably his visionary attempt to transform long due establishment and distancing with USA have marked a deep presence in the minds of Pakistani. Time has not come yet to write off Imran Khan from the history of Pakistan. Precedents show that kicked out Pakistani prime ministers have returned after few years. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are the prime example of returning. In fact, Nawaz Sharif announced his return to Pakistan after the ousting of Imran Khan by no-confidence vote. So, we should not rule out the possibility of Imran Khan’s return in Pakistan leadership impossible. But to return, he will have to make a quick concession with Pakistan military leadership in the meantime. It is virtually impossible to stay in power of Pakistan without the support of Pakistan military. Imran Khan also needs to keep his strong supports alive as street protests continue. Keeping the momentum of street recriminations may create a deadlock situation for newly appointed regime to smoothly function. In fact, newly appointed government is also based on coalition. As a result, internal conflict may prevail here as well. So, pressuring to make an early election with public support would be blessing for PTI as tide of public sympathy is in favor of Imran Khan. However, Imran Khan and his PTI above all need to stay in political field. It may take time but Imran Khan’s return will not be impossible if he pragmatically use statecraft in favor of him.
The author of this article regularly contributes to national & international issues.