After multiple adjournments of Pakistan’s National Assembly in a bid by Imran Khan to evade the no-trust vote tabled by the Opposition, the intervention of the Supreme Court, and eventually, a series of high-intensity political developments in the early hours of April 10, led to the ouster of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and the country’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The overnight exit of the former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, however, had been several months in the making, fueled by a group of political entities aiming to dislodge him and a couple of favourable events that emboldened their ambition.
Army chief General Bajwa
The outgoing Prime Minister’s administration was described as a ‘hybrid-regime’ between Mr. Khan’s PTI-led coalition and the Pakistan Army, or ‘the establishment’. It was the backing of Pakistan’s Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the former head of the country’s intelligence agency ISI, Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, that reportedly played a pivotal role in Mr. Khan taking and retaining charge.
However, last year, General Bajwa and the military started being criticised by the Opposition for lending their support to Mr. Khan. Political observers have said that the army's frustrations were also rooted in the fact that the PTI leader had failed in bringing stable governance, especially in the crucial Punjab province where he refused to replace Usman Buzdar as the Chief Minister despite strong dissatisfaction.
The growing rift between Gen Bajwa and Mr. Khan became most evident in October last year, when the former wanted to appoint a new head for the ISI. The army chief wanted to replace Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, who had reportedly become increasingly confident of succeeding Gen Bajwa as the next military head. Mr. Khan, who had reportedly developed a close bond with Lt Gen Hameed, did not sign the notification for the new appointee, Lt. Gen Nadeem Anjum, for three weeks, until finally relenting.
Lastly, the army did not agree with Mr. Khan on some crucial foreign policy decisions. Mr. Khan’s failed attempts to get the attention of the United States after it withdrew from Afghanistan was one of the reasons. As far as relations with India are concerned, Mr. Khan was not keen on General Bajwa’s public attempts to stabilise relations with India and restore trade.
Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the Opposition in the Pakistan National Assembly and the brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been nominated by the Opposition as Mr. Khan’s successor.
Mr. Sharif, with the backing of the opposition alliance, tabled the no-confidence motion in Parliament, beginning the process that would finally lead to Mr. Khan’s ouster.
Among the two Sharif brothers, a tacit arrangement always made sure that if their Party, the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), won elections, Mr. Nawaz would be the Prime Minister and Mr. Shehbaz, the Chief Minister of the Punjab province. This happened all three times the party won, including in 2013.
After the exile of Nawaz Sharif in 2017, Mr. Shehbaz was made the president of PML-N with his brother’s blessings, but the party lost the national elections in 2018. Alleging that the elections were rigged, Mr. Shehbaz, along with the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement, has been determined in their efforts to oust Mr. Khan since then.
Deobandi cleric and hardliner Fazl-ur-Rehman, the president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party and the former Petroleum Minister of Pakistan during the late Benazir Bhutto’s regime in the 1990s, has been Mr. Khan’s staunchest political rival since 2019. This is when he led an ‘Azadi March’ in Islamabad against the ousted PM, who was struggling to stabilise the Pakistan economy.
Despite not winning any of the three seats he contested in the 2018 national election, and not being an MP in the National Assembly, Mr. Rehman became the head of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, the opposition alliance including PML-N, PPP, and JUI(F), created in September 2020 to dislodge Mr. Khan.
Mr. Khan publicly dismissed Mr. Rehman frequently during his tenure, referring to him as ‘Mullah Diesel’, a political jibe at the latter’s alleged corrupt activities while Petroleum Minister.
In recent years, Mr. Rehman also reportedly managed to get on the right side of the Pakistan Army, with General Bajwa allegedly asking Mr. Khan not to refer to the JUI(F) leader as ‘Diesel’.
Asif Ali Zardari
Asif Ali Zardri, the husband of Benazir Bhutto, became the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after her assassination in 2007, and the following year took charge as the President of Pakistan in a power-sharing settlement with PML-N.
Mr. Zardari has been jailed twice on corruption-related charges, smuggling of drugs, and murder while never actually facing trial. He had been urging the National Assembly Members to partake in the no-trust vote and oust Mr. Khan, citing the cost of living and economic crises in Pakistan.
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, has been compared by observers to the late Benazir Bhutto. She garnered the credit for scripting the political movement that her party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), undertook to bring the masses to the streets in support of her father, and against Mr. Khan.
In the last couple of years, public rallies organised by her as the vice-president of PML-N, from the Punjab province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, have been attended by millions of people concerned about the deteriorating economic condition in Pakistan.
Ms. Maryam, became active in the country’s politics in the 2010s, after the fall of the military regime. Ms. Maryam designed her father’s election campaign in 2013, and PML-N won 166 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, with Mr. Sharif becoming the Prime Minister. Mr. Sharif backed Ms. Maryam, the eldest of the third generation of the Sharifs, over her brothers Hassan and Hussein, to take over the party leadership.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, was handed the leadership of the party at the age of 19, after his mother's assassination.
The 33-year-old Oxford-educated politician, known for his progressive views, has been garnering the attention of Pakistan’s youth, with his social media savvy. Though mocked for his poor command over the Urdu language, he has managed to play a pivotal role for his party in the opposition alliance and is reportedly up for the position of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister in the to-be regime.
MQM-P and BAM
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) party, which was one of the political allies and coalition partners of the Imran Khan-led PTI government, pulled out its support in an 11th-hour move on March 30 this year.
It was this move by the MQM-P that led to Mr. Khan effectively losing the majority in Parliament before the no-confidence vote.
“We want to make a new beginning for politics of tolerance and true democracy,” MQM-P chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had said in a joint press conference with the Opposition in late March. “I announce to support the Opposition in Parliament.”
Another ally of the Mr. Khan-led coalition, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) with five members in the lower house, had announced around the same time that it had “accepted the Opposition’s invitation” to vote against Mr. Khan.