On Sunday 10th April, Imran Khan was booted out by Pakistan’s parliament in a vote of no confidence. Khan had recently lost his parliamentary majority due to the defection of his party’s main coalition partner. On Sunday 3rd April, in order to avoid facing a vote of no confidence, Khan dissolved parliament to trigger fresh elections. Khan had hoped for an interim government to be put in place until new elections could be held within 90 days, as per the Constitution.
Khan’s opponents challenged the dissolution of parliament at the Supreme Court saying that ignoring the issue of a vote of no confidence was unconstitutional. Khan had argued that the vote against him was instigated as the ‘behest of a foreign power’, i.e. America, (Spectator, 9.4.22). The Supreme Court took the side of the opposition and said that the planned vote of no confidence should go ahead. Khan has 168 allies in the Assembly, all of whom walked out during the vote in protest. The remaining 174, two more than the number required, voted Khan out and Shehbaz Sharif from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party in.
‘Welcome back to old Pakistan’, said the son of assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party.
When Pakistan was created in 1947 with the partition of then British India, power has alternated between military and civilian governments. Since the 1970s it has mostly been ruled by one of two families: the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, although General Zia ruled throughout the 1980s. Pakistan’s military continue to play a dominant role in Pakistani politics.
The new prime minster, Shehbaz Sharif, is from one of the two old school political parties and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who the Supreme Court removed from power in 2017 for his undeclared assets outside Pakistan that were revealed in the famous Panama Papers. Nawaz was serving a 7 year prison sentence in Pakistan until he received special permission to visit the UK for medical treatment in 2019, where he has remained since. Sworn in on Monday 11th April 2022, Prime Minster Shehbaz is leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party and former chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab. 60% of Pakistan’s 220 million people live in Punjab and it is considered the most powerful of Pakistan’s 4 provinces.
The Pakistan Military
Until 2018 when Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (Justice) Party (PTI) won the elections, the Sharif and Bhutto families were bitter rivals. They united against a common enemy claiming that Pakistan’s powerful army had helped bring him to power. According to Politico, fissures in Khan’s relationship with the army began in November when he disagreed with the Army Chief General over a newly appointed Chief of Intelligence. The Guardian writes that as soon as the army withdrew their support, the opposition parties moved in for the kill. When Khan lost his majority in parliament, he made claims that the United States were working with the opposition towards ousting him, (NPR).
Ashan Butt of Al Jazeera writes that Khan does not have a problem with the military, just one man, its leader, Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The army did, after all, help to bring him to power. But their support has waned. Khan’s supporters are primarily the urban middle class and elite, who historically have also supported military intervention in politics. Should Khan attack the army politically, his remaining support base could split into two factions: pro-Imran Khan and pro-Bajwa, the head of the military, (Al Jazeera). Not only this, but as Mohammed Hanif writes in the Guardian: ‘Khan himself doesn’t want to burn the bridge that may one day bring him back to office’.
The opposition have blamed Khan’s government for economic mismanagement, rising prices and high inflation. Khan’s government and the IMF agreed a $6 billion loan programme in 2019, to avert a balance of payments crisis. He has also had to deal with the economic losses brought by Covid.
Khan, whose foreign policy choices often courted China and Russia, has accused the opposition of flirting with the United States in a bid to overthrow his government. In his address to the nation on 8th April, Khan reiterated his claim that it was the US who wanted him out and asked people if they wanted to be a free nation or American slaves, (Guardian, 12.4.22). Washington deny interference in Pakistan’s government and Putin, of course, has sided with Khan.
Khan has called for supporters to stage demonstrations countrywide after the end of the daily dawn to dusk Ramadan fasting. He has vowed to fight on in the next elections which he wants to take place in 90 days but that is unlikely. Khan still has a lot of supporters in Pakistan, mainly concentrated in the urban core of the country where the professional middle class live. Writing for Dawn newspaper in Pakistan, Zaigham Khan recalls his rise to political power:
‘Many of Khan’s colleagues, like Khan himself, are children of government servants who, through their hard work, dedication and ambition, made it possible for their children to become businessmen and politicians. The growth in the middle class and the power of ultra-rich crony capitalists had made it possible to finally challenge the political elite’.
Khan was successful because he was the first outsider to challenge the two family dynasty who, along with the military, alternated their shifts in power. He was seen as someone who was finally not corrupt after decades of corruption. Both Shehbaz Sharif, the Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), are no strangers to corruption. Even those who think that Khan has been an ineffective leader have to admit that at least he has been honest.
Imran Khan in Power
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid in the Spectator has not been kind about Khan, saying that he has alienated the working class, pandered to radical Islamists and supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pro-Western factions within the army and political elite refer to him as ‘Taliban Khan’ for his support of US forces leaving Afghanistan. Pakistan have long had an understanding with the Taliban and it is easy to be judgmental from a distance but put yourself in the position where you are living just across the border, whether you agree with the Taliban or not, they’re not going anywhere.
Pakistan and the United States have had good relations in the past, particularly vis a vis fighting off terrorists. However, since being in power, President Biden has made no effort to establish relations with Imran Khan; not even a phone call. Imran Khan has not made favourable comments about the United States either and his rhetoric within Pakistan is often anti-American.
In terms of regime change, according to Toquir Hussain of the National Interest, ‘it is possible that US diplomats in Islamabad may have told the opposition about their unhappiness with Khan, hoping to weaken his political support. If true, this was the farthest Washington’s interference went’. He also writes the following:
‘Khan claimed that Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, threatened regime change in his meeting with Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on March 7. But no evidence of such a threat was provided by Khan, nor could it be, as it was allegedly made during a secret diplomatic conversation. All he could say was that Lu used threatening language and knew about the upcoming no-confidence vote, which was moved to a day after the meeting. In actual fact, Lu may have candidly expressed the United States’ exasperation with the direction of Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially the former prime minister’s rhetoric. He probably said that while the United States was interested in having good relations with Pakistan, this was not likely to happen under Khan’s leadership. And in this context, perhaps the words “no-confidence motion” were mentioned explicitly or implicitly. As it was public knowledge that such a motion was in the offing, it was not a secret whose divulgence would have betrayed American complicity’.
Relations with China and Russia
Pakistan purchase Chinese military equipment and are heavily tied in to China’s Belt and Road Initiative for investment purposes. China invested in the development of Gwadar Port, west of Karachi, which is a key opening to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Khan also took out a loan from China to repay one that it owed to the UAE. As well as relying on China financially, Pakistan rely on Russia for energy. Khan was criticised for visiting Putin in Moscow on 24th February, the day he ordered the invasion of Ukraine. However, he is well aware that his country need the yet to be built Pakistan Stream gas pipeline , which at 1,100km, will connect gas terminals in the port of Karachi to Kasur in the province of Punjab.
Interestingly, regarding Gwadar Port, when Pakistan gained independence in 1947, it was under Omani rule. On 7th September 1958, after 4 years of intense negotiations, Pakistan purchased the Gwadar enclave from the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman for $3 million, giving Pakistan a natural and strategic location for a warm water deep sea port. Gwadar had been given as a gift to Oman by the Khan of Kalat in 1783. Gwadar formally became part of Pakistan on 8th December 1958 after 174 years of Omani rule. Gwadar means ‘door of wind’, in the language of Balochistan, the province in which Gwadar sits.
The National Assembly has 342 seats. This is the lower house of parliament, the lawmaking body. To vote someone out of power they need a simple majority of 172 votes.
Pakistan’s military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75 year history and has overthrown successive democratically elected governments. When not in power, they have ‘indirectly manipulated elected governments from the sidelines’, (Politico, 9.4.22).
Pakistan’s next general election is not due until August 2023. They can be held early if the Prime Minister calls them, but these are unlikely to happen before October as the Pakistan Election Commission are in the process of realigning constituencies following a 2017 census. Scores of Khan’s supporters have resigned, (FT, 12.4.22).
No Pakistani Prime Minister has ever served a full 5 year term but this is the first time one has left as a result of a no confidence vote.
Mohammed Hanif for The Guardian, ‘Khan already plotting his return’, 12.4.22:
(Hanif is the author of the novels ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ and ‘Red Birds’. He is based in Karachi).
The Guardian on the new Prime Minister, 11.4.22:
FT, ‘Welcome back to Old Pakistan’, 11.4.22:
Zaigham Khan, Dawn News, ‘The Promise of Imran Khan’, 10.4.22:
(Dawn newspaper has been regarded as the best and oldest newspaper in Pakistan. However pro Imran Khan people are now accusing of it being too biased towards the corrupt. It doesn’t mention the reforms Khan implemented but it is an excellent read does provide several facts. It gives an excellent account of Imran Khan’s rise to political prominence in Pakistan from his days as a professional cricket player onwards).
‘FT, ‘Pakistan’s Supreme Court puts Imran Khan back on the brink’, 8.4.22:
Al Jazeera, ‘How will PM Khan’s removal affect Pakistan’s fragile democracy?’, 11.4.22:
(A good overview of modern Pakistan politics mingled with the military)
BBC News, ‘Pakistan court rules no confidence vote block is illegal’, 8.4.22:
Politico, ‘Pakistan’s embattled PM ousted in no confidence vote’, 9.4.22 (note these dates are in the American format on the website, so will come up as 4.9.22, with the month before the date):
Politico, ‘Ousted PM of Pakistan vows to fight on’, 10.4.22:
Spectator, ‘What next for Imran Khan?’, 12.4.22:
Spectator, ‘Can Imran Khan cling onto power in Pakistan?’, 9.4.22:
(This article gives a more favourable view of Imran Khan than the one above)
The National Interest, ‘Did the United States Really try to Overthrow Pakistan’s Imran Khan?’, 12.4.22:
(The writer, Toquir Hussain, is a former Pakistan Ambassador and Diplomatic Adviser to the Prime Minister, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and a Senior Visiting Research Fellow Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore)
More on Imran Khan’s allegations that the United States were involved in an attempt to overthrow him, Daily Times, Pakistan, 4.4.22:
More on Khan alleging the United States were involved in the no confidence vote, NPR, 1.4.22:
This is an old article written by Ayyaz Mallick for Novara Media, dated 8th August 2018, about the elections in Pakistan that brought Imran Khan to power. It gives interesting detail on the Sharif family fall from grace in 2017/18 and good background on Khan, his rise to power and popularity amongst the middle class who ‘found in Khan a vehicle for their technocratic-meritocratic values and aspirations’.
History on the purchase of Gwadar from Oman:
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