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Explained | What led to the fall of Imran Khan govt in Pakistan

In an unprecedented move on April 3, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan dissolved the General Assembly to circumvent a no-confidence motion raised by the Opposition. On April 7, the Supreme Court ruled against Khan and restored the Parliament for a no-trust vote.

And on the midnight of April 10, the current Prime Minister was ousted from power.

Apart from the basic concerns about the constitutionality of the dissolution act and the role of the Supreme Court in parliamentary proceedings, a pertinent question remains -- what led to the abrupt fall of country's superstar Prime Minister.

What led to the current crisis and the call for no-confidence vote?

Soaring inflation, devaluation of currency, massive external debt and corruption --- Pakistan economy is mired in chaos.

Mismanagement in various provinces, particularly Punjab, triggered the misgivings against the current administration. It is ironic that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, a close aide of the Prime Minister, has been accused of widespread corruption, when Khan himself came to power in 2018 through an anti-corruption campaign promising a 'new Pakistan'.

Activists from the Opposition party Pakistan Muslim leauge Nawaz (PML-N) take part of anti-government march toward Islamabad from Lahore on March 26, 2022. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

Even members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have parted ways with the PM for backing of the now outgoing Punjab CM. Incidentally, Punjab is a crucial province in Pakistan, politically and economically.

While the current crisis was triggered by the allegations against the Punjab CM, the root cause for the political turmoil is the economic status of the country.

Fuelled by the Ukraine war, surging trade deficit and mounting debt, the Pakistan economy is struggling to stay afloat. With a consumer price inflation above 12 per cent and devaluation of currency by over 50 per cent in 5 years, Pakistan is likely to follow the line of bankruptcy soon.

The crisis stems from the fact that a huge portion of Pakistani revenue is financed by external debt and not domestic institutions.

The roll out of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) increased the country's debt burden. Pakistan owes more than 25 per cent of its external loans to China and the country has refused to grant any more aid to its neighbour.

The 2018 bailout package by IMF came at a huge cost for Pakistan. In fact, Imran Khan's government has failed to meet a major portion of IMF requirements like reducing budget deficit, improving banking and tax legislation, strengthening the social safety net for poor households, phasing out electricity subsidies, and reducing foreign exchange market intervention by the federal bank.

Failed negotiations with IMF have forced the country to increasingly rely on Saudi Arabia for help at a much higher interest rate.

The outburst of the pandemic late in 2019 did nothing to improve the situation.

Opposition leader of Pakistan Muslim league Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz Sharif (R), daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his cousin Hamza Shahbaz Sharif (C) waves towards the supporters upon the start of anti-government march toward Islamabad from Lahore on March 26, 2022. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

Economists are of the view that curbing of unviable development projects, reducing import bills, and relying more on its domestic firms would possibly help Pakistan to avoid deepening the crisis further.

Who led the protests against Khan?

Activists from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a few supporters of the PTI, labelled 'turncoats' by Khan, and the conservative Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) are among thousands who took to the streets to protest against Khan.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is led by Shehbaz Sharif, brother of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. He is the current opposition leader in Pakistan and most likely the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Will Imran's party survive the crisis?

Imran Khan's party never had the full majority to form the government to begin with.

After the disqualification of incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sherif by the Supreme Court in 2017 over corruption charges, the general elections were held in Pakistan in 2018.

The Pakistani National Assembly has a total strength of 342 members, with the majority mark being 172. The PTI-led coalition was formed with the support of 179 members, with Imran Khan’s PTI having 155 members, and four major allies.

Shiite Muslim demonstrators from Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan political organisation take part in an anti-US protest in Lahore April 1, 2022. - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 31 accused the United States of meddling in Pakistan's politics -- a claim quickly denied by Washington -- as a debate on a no-confidence motion against him in parliament was postponed. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

Without the support of the allies, PTI's rule is as good as over. With the massive corruption charges and the failing economy, it is doubtful if Khan's party can survive another election.

US plot to oust Khan?

The US undoubtedly had a role to play in Pakistan's political power play for the past decades.

But the role of the United States in the current crisis is most likely limited. US is struggling to fix the Ukraine-Russia war situation from the galleries and it is unlikely to be interested in Pakistan's internal politics in the current scenario.

Khan could have merely played the conspiracy card to shift the attention from the impending economic crisis and emotionally appealing to the masses with the popular anti-West rhetoric.

In reality, US-Pakistan relationship has deteriorated since Joe Biden took over as US President after Donald Trump. While Khan is not appreciative of the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden is not fond of Pakistan's nexus with China.

Imran Khan also has a grudge against America for accusing Pakistan of harbouring terrorists.

What are these safe havens? The area of Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan had the heaviest surveillance by the US drones, surely they would have known if there were any safe havens?

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan

“What are these safe havens? The area of Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan had the heaviest surveillance by the US drones, surely they would have known if there were any safe havens?” he said in an interview with the CNN.

What is the Army's stance?

The truth is, the Pakistan military has not openly chosen a clear side yet. But experts argue that protests of this scale cannot take place in the country without the silent nod of the military. The tiff between the President and the General over the appointment of the ISI chief last year also indicates that the latter is not too fond of Khan's reign in the country.

But one thing is certain -- unlike Khan's misgivings, Pakistan military is keen to get off the grey List of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and enhance cooperation with the United States. The poor quality of the Chinese equipment procured by the Pakistan military over the past few years and the huge maintenance cost are also a reason for the current shift in stance.

Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has hinted at reviving ties with America. Several member countries of the FATF, including Germany, US and France, have denied military aid to the country.

How will this affect India?

Since the major decisions affecting the geopolitical position of India in the subcontinent lies in the hands of the Pakistan military, a change in power is unlikely to significantly affect the bilateral ties.

However, the Sharif political dynasty, which is currently leading the protest against Khan's PTI, has always welcomed talks with India to resolve issues. Recently, General Qamar Javed Bajwa indicated that Pakistan was ready to move forward on Kashmir if India agrees.

Pakistan's waning influence over Afghanistan, improving camaraderie with Russia in view of the Ukraine war, and strained financial relationship with China will impact India's position in Asian geopolitics. Therefore, regime change or not -- India will be watching its neighbour closely. 

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