Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan is in serious trouble. He lost his majority in parliament after key allies switched their support to the opposition alliance called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). He is now facing calls to resign or be ousted through a vote of no-confidence, which is due to take place on Sunday.
Both are humiliating scenarios for the former cricket star and celebrity who have desperately tried to stay in power. Even, in my view, at the cost of advancing all his promises and principles of him. Two words now define his legacy of him as PM: arrogance and incompetence.
It wasn’t like this when Imran Khan came to power in 2018. He was popular and a significant number of Pakistanis thought he deserved a chance to rid the country of chronic corruption and mis-governance.
There was hope in the air. He promised he would change the fate of Pakistan in 90 days; he would bring respect from other nations, attract unprecedented investment, create ten million jobs and root out corruption. He would bring back the billions looted from the country.
Nearly four years later, he has been unable to fulfill a single promise. And, until recently, Imran Khan enjoyed the full support of Pakistan’s military establishment in every manner possible. In fact, Khan’s most important ally, Pervaiz Elahi, said in a recent interview that for three-and-a-half years someone else changed his nappies and thus did n’t let him learn – a reference to the military’s support from him.
Instead, Imran Khan was widely criticized as spending his time cracking down on opponents. Dozens of journalists were taken off the air when they didn’t toe the line, or worse, were imprisoned. Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the editor in chief of Pakistan’s largest media group, the Jang Group, was locked up in a case that Human Rights Watch condemned as “politically motivated”. He was later acquitted by a court.
He would make long, threatening speeches dismissing his rivals as inferior beings who deserved no respect and no humanity. He would use airtime to abuse and issue threats against rivals. In 2022 HRW again lambasted the government for the crackdown on dissent by citizens, journalists and opposition politicians.
Meanwhile, it has become evident to me that Imran Khan didn’t actually have an economic development plan. He changed one finance minister after another, but the economy continued to fall and the number of jobs kept dwindling. Today, inflation in Pakistan is amongst the highest in South Asia. For the ordinary people, living and surviving has become much harder.
Eventually his popularity sapped among his middle-class support base. Things took a different turn three months ago when General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was appointed chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. A thorough professional who spent three years studying in London, General Nadeem ordered the spy agency not to interfere in politics, to stay neutral and let politicians settle their matters among each other. That made it easier for his allies to start talking to the main opposition parties and plan for their independent future.
Imran Khan is not one to sit quietly.
A number of feverish allegations have since emerged that he is the victim of an international conspiracy engineered by the US because he was pursuing an independent foreign policy with Russia. One of his aides claimed he faced an assassination threat from the same western forces who have hatched the conspiracy to oust him from power. It then turned out there was no threatening letter written by the US, but a cable written by a Pakistani diplomat based in Washington – a routine matter.
In front of thousands of his supporters on Sunday, at one point he started sobbing.
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The Pakistani military – who supported him throughout – has reportedly become increasingly concerned about the manner in which Khan has run the economy and done little to improve governance. He named Pakistan’s army chief in public rallies and replied to the army’s decision to stay neutral by saying that “only animals are neutral”. But the army is in no mood to take blame for the administrative and political failures of someone they supported for many years.
My feeling is that Imran Khan knows there is no conspiracy against him and no western power wants to throw him out. But he needs to fuel his support base into believing he has fallen out of favor due to a plot against him. The fact remains he is under threat from his own party and own allies because he promised the moon but delivered nothing. It’s the sheer frustration with his arrogance and misgovernance that is tearing apart his coalition.
But no more. It’s now just a matter of time before Imran Khan is out of power. His fate is sealed.
The writer is a London-based journalist for Pakistan’s largest media house Geo TV Network & The News International