ISSN 2330-717X

With Imran Khan Ousted, Pakistan Army Will Have A Salient Role In Islamabad – Analysis

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By Sameer Patil and Sarral Sharma

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The controversial and dramatic ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on the intervening night of April 9-10 has set Pakistan on an uncertain political path. The incoming government of the Opposition led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif is facing an unprecedented challenge of not just stabilising Pakistan’s dwindling economy, but also maintaining peace and tranquillity amid signs of political backlash with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

The former PM has already played the ‘victim’ card, and generated anti-Opposition, anti-US, and anti-military sentiments in the last one month to garner public support, since the Opposition brought the ‘no-confidence’ motion against him. These sentiments may lead to further political chaos and violence in the country, forcing the powerful military establishment to step in.

So far, the Army has remained a ‘neutral’ player, and not intervened ‘openly’ in the ongoing political crisis. However, there are growing signs of uneasiness within the military against Khan’s attempts to create political disruptions, and jeopardising Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with the US by accusing the latter for the ‘regime change’.

According to some media reports, Khan even attempted to sack the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 9, and threatened to implement the ‘martial law’ rather than handing over power to the Opposition. Perhaps, Khan has become a political ‘liability’ for the Army, which had brought him to power in August 2018.

On the other hand, the Pakistani apex court’s decision against Khan on the vote of no-confidence cleared the judiciary’s take on the matter. The two powerful institutions in Pakistan — military and judiciary — are possibly not in favour of Khan’s dangerous politics, which has created political instability in the country.

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Nevertheless, it is still early days to undermine Khan’s future or relevance in Pakistan’s politics. He remains a ‘populist’ leader with followers ranging from young, urban middle-classes to Pakistanis living outside the country. On his call, people came out on the streets on April 10 in large numbers to protest the ousting of the PTI’s government. Khan’s emotive speeches in the last one month, and the whole narrative around the ‘foreign [read US] conspiracy’ against him, have angered the PTI’s followers, who are feeling impassioned to support their leader against the ‘imported government’.

Khan will use these sentiments to his advantage to put pressure on the new government to conduct elections at the earliest. The Election Commission of Pakistan has already informed President Arif Alvi that the fresh elections are not possible before October. Therefore, expect the PTI to resort to various pressure tactics including resigning from all assemblies, national and provincial, to push for early polls.

For Sharif, the foremost challenge will be to handle the economic crisis and keeping the political alliance intact. The incoming government will face a strong opposition in the face of Khan and the PTI, who are masters at street campaigning.

On the economic front, the recommencement of the International Monetary Fund’s $6 billion bailout will be a key priority for the new government amid rising inflation, increasing food and energy prices, and the historic trade deficit of over $35 billion. Interestingly, Pakistan’s Stock Exchange and Dollar-Pakistan rupee exchange rates have shown some signs of improvement since the Supreme Court declared on April 7 the judgment on the no-trust motion against the Khan government.

The motley coalition may face differences over key decisions in the coming months. While the glue of ousting the Khan government held the Opposition together, its real test will be now as all the alliance partners are looking for the long-term political objectives. Besides, inter-provincial differences, local political objectives, preparations for the next elections, and distribution of financial resources under the budgetary considerations, among others, may create divisions within the new coalition. It is possible that the main alliance parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan People Party, may use the period before the next elections to generate public support.

On the foreign policy front, the new foreign minister of Pakistan will have a difficult task at hand to improve ties with the US. But to its advantage, the new government will have the support of the military establishment. Washington’s support is crucial at the IMF, Financial Action Task Force, diplomatic balancing, and defence equipment purchases.

This is the underlying reality of any democratic government of Pakistan: it needs the support of the Army to survive. The fact that Prime Minister Sharif and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari have a somewhat cordial relationship with the establishment hints that the new government may receive support from Rawalpindi.


This article originally appeared in Money Control.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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