The White House from Washington, DC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Imran Khan, former prime minister of Pakistan, was voted out of office late Saturday, April 9 after losing a no-confidence vote in the country’s parliament. His replacement, Shehbaz Sharif, became the interim prime minister amidst economic turmoil and major foreign policy issues with the United States. Pakistan has a history of political instability due to a powerful military that has influence in government. Khan also struggled to control rising inflation throughout his tenure, which ultimately led to his downfall.
Khan grew to prominence in the 1970s as a cricket player on Pakistan’s national team. In 1996, he founded his own political party called the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI is a centrist party known for its goals to create a welfare state and dismantle religious discrimination throughout Pakistan. Khan struggled to be taken seriously early on, but he gained immense support in 2011 when many were inspired by his messages against corruption and the U.S. He became prime minister in 2018 in a vote where some claim the military interfered with the election. No prime minister in Pakistan has ever completed their full five year term due to years of political instability and military disputes. Many thought Khan might be the first to do so, but after spending just short of four years in office, he was voted out. As prime minister, Khan faced many challenges. Last year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rekindled an old deal with Pakistan from 2019. The goal of this bailout was to allow for more economic growth by increasing revenue and hindering corruption. Inflation became a major problem as prices went up in an attempt to comply with the conditions set by the IMF, which led to the costs of food and other necessary resources to rise and caused public discontent.
Another major point of criticism for Khan was his foreign policy and relationship with the U.S. In an attempt to distance Pakistan from the United States, Khan disengaged from the war on terrorism, and said that Pakistan would not allow the C.I.A. to use bases in the country for operations in Afghanistan. He was resentful that Pakistani lives were lost while fighting “America’s war” on terror. The U.S. asked Khan to use some of his leverage to convince the Taliban to reduce violence and strike an interpeace deal in Afghanistan.
As a final blow to Khan’s power, military leaders showed less support for him, which thwarted the political stability he had at the time he was elected. Khan’s relationship with the military faltered mainly as a result of a disagreement between him and military leaders where he delayed signing off on a personnel change. Throughout the country’s existence, the military has played a role in the positions of leaders because of its power in government. Khan also appeared to have lost the favor of the majority in parliament and was facing pressure to resign. Then, before the vote was slated to occur on April 3, Khan dissolved Parliament in an attempt to delay it. He claimed that his opponents were allied with the U.S. in trying to remove him because of the rocky relations between the two countries. Khan believes that the U.S. was upset after he visited Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin on the day war began in Ukraine. Pakistan’s Supreme Court later voted that this act violated the constitution and overturned his motion. The court then ordered the vote to proceed the following Saturday, so late that night, Parliament gathered as police waited outside the building in case the proceedings grew violent. Just before midnight, politicians in support of Khan left the building, and the voting continued inside. The motion was passed with 174 votes, two more than the necessary majority.
Parliament later chose to elect Shehbaz Sharif as the interim prime minister until a new vote occurs later this year. Sharif is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party and brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N is more conservative than the PTI, but it still has similar liberal stances on healing the economy and solving social issues. Sharif is part of a political dynasty which has been involved in government for years despite allegations of corruption. He will be left to deal with the many problems that appeared throughout Khan’s time in office and is expected to focus on repairing ties with the U.S. with the support of military leaders. Although Khan is no longer in office, he has already begun a new campaign centered around his anti-American principles. The public is largely divided, and brawls have broken out across Pakistan between Khan’s supporters and critics. According to the New York Times, “protesters supporting Mr. Khan stormed into a mosque in northern Pakistan and started a brawl, after opposition supporters in the mosque screamed their own chants slamming Mr. Khan.” Some citizens are upset with the economic troubles created during his tenure, and others still support him and feel wronged by his ousting despite the many issues that he failed to solve. With Sharif as the new prime minister, politics in Pakistan will continue to evolve in spite of the difficult problems being faced in the country.