Game for the throne: On Imran Khan’s attempts to cling to power

It was certain that Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, would be ousted in the no-trust vote. The Opposition had put up a united face. His allies had jumped ship, reducing the ruling coalition to a minority. His party lawmakers had revolted against him. The cricketer-turned-PM’s defeat was a matter of formality in a country where no Prime Minister has completed their term. On Sunday, the Deputy Speaker dismissed the no-trust motion, calling it against the Constitution, which was followed by Mr. Khan’s formal request to the President to dissolve the National Assembly. Pakistan will have to hold elections in three months, provided there is no judicial intervention. There were three bad options before Mr. Khan: resignation, no-trust vote or early elections. By choosing elections, he avoided a humiliating defeat and also sought to torpedo the Opposition’s bid to form a government for the remainder of the current Parliament’s term. Before the National Assembly convened, Mr. Khan had set the campaign pitch by accusing the Opposition of conspiring with a foreign power (an indirect reference to the U.S.) to unseat him. The current crisis would also allow him to play the victim of some foreign conspiracy and seek a fresh mandate. But the question is what price does Pakistan pay for his political manoeuvring? The conspiracy theories, the dismissal of the no-trust motion and the call for early elections all suggest Mr. Khan’s contempt for parliamentary procedures and basic democratic decency.

For the labyrinth he is in today, Mr. Khan has to blame nobody but himself. Having been a political underdog for years, he broke into Pakistan’s two-party political order in 2018 with the direct support of the military. His cocktail of religious conservatism, nationalism and anti-corruption crusade promised to build a ‘Naya Pakistan’. But while in power, he made three critical mistakes: mismanagement of the economy, mismanagement of his ties with the military, and full-spectrum hostility with the Opposition. His vindictive approach towards the Opposition brought together all the major Opposition parties, which tried to cash in on the growing public resentment amid economic woes. Cracks in the government’s relationship with the military began appearing last year when Mr. Khan reportedly sparred with the establishment over the appointment of the new ISI chief. His visit to Moscow in February, immediately after Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and the “neutral” policy his government adopted regarding the conflict seem to have quickened his fall. Last week, the Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, spoke against the Russian invasion and re-emphasised the importance of Pakistan’s ties with the U.S. in a public rebuke of Mr. Khan’s pragmatism. Now, out of favour with the military, a lost majority in Parliament and faced with anger amid a worsening economic crisis, the ‘Captain’ does not have any good options before him. With his back against the wall, what he is doing for political survival is only weakening Pakistan’s non-military institutions and subverting its democratic proceedings.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2022 12:14:07 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/game-for-the-throne-on-imran-khans-attempts-to-cling-to-power/article65290092.ece