Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan. (PTI)
Like any power-hungry politician, Imran Khan Niazi is trying every trick in the book and some from out of it to not be dethroned when the votes in the national legislature seemed loaded against him in a no-trust vote. Taking to subterfuge when cornered, he used an ally in the Deputy Speaker who, agreeing with his PM that a foreign conspiracy was in the air, ruled that the trust vote against the Prime Minister was not in order. By dissolving the Assembly and not facing the confidence vote, Imran Khan may have finessed his opponents but the victory could yet prove pyrrhic.
Regime changes never come about in an organised or organic manner in Pakistan where coups and interventions — military or judicial or civilian through lawmakers shifting their loyalties — are staged with such stunning regularity that not one Pakistan Prime Minister has ever completed a term in office. Having come to power on the back of Army support and the endorsement of the people, the cricketer-turned-politician was aiming to fashion an Islamist welfare state but was undermined by his falling out with the Army top brass and by his overreach against opponents.
It is up to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to settle the matter and point the way forward from the quagmire of Imran Khan’s despair to keep his party in power through a caretaker Prime Minister. The anti-corruption plank is a standard weapon in the subcontinent and regimes are not averse to using it to pull the rug from the feet of political opponents and critics. But Imran Khan may have overstepped in wielding it indiscriminately and running afoul of the Opposition, which in Pakistan is never a spent force in any circumstances, particularly the one represented by the Sharif clan of politically significant Punjab.
The two principal reasons why Imran Khan was on the verge of losing power was his run-in with the Amy chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa over the appointment of the ISI chief, who is the Army’s handmaiden in several operations, and his mismanagement of the economy as reflected in runaway inflation and a steeply falling Pakistani rupee. His courting of China and Russia — he was in Moscow on the day the Ukraine war began on February 24 — at the expense of a longstanding relationship with the USA, a huge financial benefactor, was his choice as he had come to power with a fierce anti-American stance that struck a chord with his people.
To blame the US for his ouster was typically tactical. Their ties are at such a low now that the US President Joe Biden has not even picked up the phone to talk to him since taking up residence at the White House in January 2021. Nearer home, Imran Khan’s approach to India was nothing to write home about though he tried to sing its praises when it came to its stand on Russia vis-a-vis the Ukraine war. On the other hand, the Amy top brass has been of late dovish on India to the extent of promoting a ceasefire on the border and LoC that has held for over a year.
It may be of little consequence to India whether Imran Khan can reclaim his office or not and it might even be geopolitically better if a young Sharif were to ascend Pakistan’s thorny throne though the Army will continue to call the shots while being as loath as ever to give up terror as a state-sponsored weapon against India. The importance of Pakistan to China might, however, dim a little if there is a change in Islamabad. India will be keenly watching developments across the border.