As Pakistan’s former prime Minister Imran Khans arrest and then his surprise release order brought thousands of supporters onto the streets, and into an unprecedented confrontation with the military- what’s at stake for the country already on the brink of economic collapse- and what does it mean for the region including India?
Pakistan’s politics exploded once again this week- with the sudden arrest of Imran Khan, former PM – take a look at these dramatic visuals of Pakistani rangers paramilitary forces storming the court in Islamabad where he had come to file a petition. They then dragged him away in an arrest that the Supreme Court ruled was illegal, just a day later.
But before that- there were these scenes- in reaction to Imran Khan’s arrest in a corruption case involving what is called the Al Qadir Trust. Here’s what happened
- Supporters of Imran Khan, and his party the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf came out to protest in dozens of cities across Pakistan
- They pelted stones, broke barricades and set highway interchanges on fire
- The protestors even burnt down Radio Pakistan’s main building in Peshawar - But what was really unprecedented, was the protestors reaching army buildings- first burning down the Corp Commanders residence in Lahore, and also breaching the first gate of the General Head Quarters of the Pakistani Army
- In police crackdowns about 2,600 of Khan’s supporters have been arrested, including key former ministers and about 11 people have been killed
- Eventually on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that his arrest was illegal, unlawful and should be reversed- the next few days and weeks will no doubt be important
While the arrest was dramatic- it is by no means a first or unexpected:
1. Practically every Pakistani leader over the past few decades- Former PM Nawaz Sharif, Former President Zardari, Former PM Benazir Bhutto, Former PMs Yousuf Raza Gilani and Shahid Abbasi, General Pervez Musharraf and others have all faced serious charges of corruption and other cases, and have either served time in prison, or fled abroad- to UAE, Saudi Arabia and UK to avoid arrest.
2. Every government that comes to power begins its tenure by trying to have the previous government arrested- including Imran Khan himself
3. Since his ouster from power in April 2022, Imran Khan has had more than 100 cases filed against him- many on corruption, some criminal and some defamation cases
4. In particular, especially after his ouster, and then the assassination attempt on him last year, Khan has been pointedly blaming the military for trying to eliminate him- naming military and ISI intelligence officials directly.
Bigger Picture for Pakistan
1. Political Turmoil- election uncertainty this year
2. Trouble within the Army - with many reports pointing to the possibility that a part of the Pakistani military is divided- and in favour of Imran Khan, there could be a shakeup down the military chain
3.Economic crisis- Covid plus Ukraine War and the crisis have led to high inflation- in April it was 36.4% Economic Debt failure- Pakistan is almost certain to default on its next debt unless IMF clears a bailout package of $6.5 bn being negotiated- with a total debt of around $140 bn, total public debt more than $270bn, just about 80% of its GDP
4. Indebtedness to China - about $30 bn, & a new loan of $700mn this year.
5. Climate change and flooding- bracing for weather systems this summer
6. All this in turn could further fuel insurgent and cross-border terror groups- in a mosque bombing in Peshawar this year, more than 100 were killed
Just last week- Bilawal Bhutto said this about what he called the perfect storm that Pakistan now faces, in an interview to The Hindu
What’s at stake for the region including India:
1. Crisis in Pakistan could see less controls over terrorist movement from Afghanistan, and more violence in the region for groups present in Pakistan
2. IMF bailout failure will also reflect badly on the region, where Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are still hopeful of more IMF support
3. Further indebtedness to China means bigger Chinese presence in South Asia. Last week, after a trilateral with Chinese FM Qin Gang, Pak FM Bhutto and Taliban FM Muttaqi, the three sides agreed to extend CPEC infrastructure corridor from Pakistan through Afghanistan
4. For India this is the year of the SCO summit and G20- and Pakistan PM uncertainty may cause the summit to be moved, any instability, increase in cross border violence will be trouble for its multilateral events
5. Confrontation with military, Instability next door is a concern for each of Pakistan’s neighbours- Iran, Afghanistan, India
WV Take: While Pakistan has been “on the brink” on several occasions in the past, it has managed to pull back. However, all its present worries- political turmoil, economic collapse, terrorism within and instability in Afghanistan have all seldom come together at one point. Also unprecedented is the anger and confrontation with Pakistan’s all powerful military- India must be agile, watch closer and aside from its bilateral problems with the country, be prepared for any outcome. If Pakistan is headed Sri Lanka’s way- India must consider helping its neighbour, despite the issues. if it is headed Afghanistan’s way, then India has even more reason to be proactive now.
1. The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience by Christoffe Jaffrelot speaks of just what kind of turmoil Pakistan has been in the past- written in 2016
2. Pakistan Under Siege: Extremis: Extremism, Society, and the State by Madiha Afzal- written by a very young US-based scholar, has chapters on the impact of islamisation and radicalisation
3. Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future by Pervez Hoodbhoy- anyone who hasn’t read this nuclear physicist’s sane and incisive analysis of Pakistan over the years is missing out- this is his latest book
4. Pakistan: A Personal History by Imran Khan is his only political biography from 2011
5. The Struggle for Pakistan – A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics by Ayesha Jalal from 2020 is a must read along with her book on Manto Pity of Partition
6. Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State by Husain Haqqani This book is more prescriptive than his previous Between Mosque and Military and Magnificant Delusions
7. A White Trail: A Journey Into the Heart of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities by Haroon Khalid- also would recommend
8. Farahanaz Ispahani’s Purifying the Land of the Pure, and her latest edited work: Politics of Hate: Religious Majoritarianism in South Asia
9. India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers by Sati Lambah- who passed away last year but completed his book- this is the most important book on possible solutions thus far.
Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar
Production: Reenu Cyriac and Gayatri Menon