Imran Khan resigns as Pakistani Prime Minister

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Imran Khan, the former international cricket star turned politician who oversaw a new era in Pakistan’s foreign policy that estranged the country from the United States, was removed from his post as prime minister early Sunday after having lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament.

The vote, which came amid runaway inflation and a rift between Mr Khan’s government and the military, ended a political crisis that has rocked the country for weeks and unfolded over of a parliamentary session that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Pakistan remains in a state of turmoil as it heads into an early election season in the coming months.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country with the world’s second-largest Muslim population, has struggled with instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. Although no prime minister in Pakistan has ever completed a full five-year term, Mr Khan is the first to be removed from office in a vote of no confidence.

The motion to oust Mr Khan passed with 174 votes, two more than the required simple majority.

Analysts expect lawmakers to pick opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, a member of a Pakistani political dynasty, to serve as caretaker prime minister until the next general election, likely in October. Mr. Khan is also expected to stand in this election.

Voting in parliament began just before midnight on Saturday after a chaotic day of political scrambling in the capital, Islamabad, as Mr Khan’s allies appeared to attempt to delay a decision – stoking fears the military could intervene.

Late Saturday night, with the two political factions at an impasse, the country’s powerful army chief met with Mr Khan.

The Supreme Court also said it would open at midnight, should the court intervene. Police and prison vans waited outside the parliament building for fear the proceedings would turn violent.

At 11:45 p.m., in protest at the no-confidence vote, lawmakers from Mr. Khan’s political coalition stormed into the National Assembly Hall.

Opposition lawmakers then proceeded to vote of no confidence.

Mr Khan has repeatedly said the opposition moves against him are part of a US-backed plot to oust him from power and he called on his supporters to demonstrate on Sunday.

“Your future is at stake,” Mr Khan said in a televised address on Friday evening. “If you don’t take a stand to protect the sovereignty of our country, we will continue to remain submissive.” He added, “The nation must stand up together to save Pakistan.”

Mr Khan, 69, had turned his athletic stardom into a populist political career, promising to rid the country of endemic corruption, get the sagging economy back on track and build a ‘new Pakistan’ he has described as an Islamist welfare state.

But economic realities, including huge public debt and three consecutive years of double-digit inflation, thwarted his plans and undermined his popularity. The fight against corruption has proven to be easier said than done. His move away from the West towards China and Russia was polarizing.

And, perhaps most crucially, he appears to have lost the support of the country’s mighty military in a dispute over his leadership.

This paved the way for a coalition of opposition parties to mount a motion of no confidence last month. But in a stunning attempt to block the vote, he and his allies dissolved parliament moments before it was scheduled for April 3.

The Supreme Court said on Thursday that Mr Khan’s decision violated the Constitution and ordered the vote to continue on Saturday.

The public rebuke to his leadership from the nation’s courts and lawmakers, including some of his allies, cost him significant political capital and eroded the aura of indomitable he had maintained for years.

But in a country where ousted political leaders are known to return to the second and even the third act, Mr Khan has shown no signs of backing down, and most analysts expect him to run for the next few months. elections.

“I don’t think Imran is excluded from Pakistani politics,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, a political analyst at SOAS University of London. “He’s already in a better position, he’s completely diverted the focus from inflation, from the economy, from this foreign conspiracy issue, and it’s benefiting him.”

Born into a wealthy family in Lahore, Mr Khan first rose to prominence in the late 1970s as an international cricketer star, becoming the face of the sport at a time when cricketers in the former British Empire began to regularly beat their former colonizer. Mr Khan helped Pakistan win the Cricket World Cup in 1992, the country’s greatest sporting achievement.

Her success on the cricket pitch and her upper class upbringing gave her a life of privilege and glamour. Throughout the 1980s, Mr Khan was a regular in London’s fashionable crowd and he gained a reputation as a playboy.

In 1996, he turned to politics, founding his own party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, portraying himself as a reformer and promising an alternative to Pakistan’s entrenched political dynasties.

Despite his popularity and mass appeal, he struggled to make political inroads for over a decade. He was mocked for his political ambitions and for the glaring contradictions between his lavish lifestyle and his efforts to rebrand himself as a devout Muslim who identified with the poor and disavowed his English-speaking peers.

But in 2011, Mr Khan seemed to find his place in politics. His rallies began to attract hundreds of thousands of urban middle-class Pakistanis and educated youth who felt dissatisfied with the system and energized by his populist anti-corruption message and criticism of the United States.

In 2018 he was elected prime minister – a victory that many of his rivals attributed to a backroom deal struck with the military. Politicians from other parties described a campaign of coercion and intimidation by security forces that effectively narrowed the electoral field and sent the message that opposition to Mr Khan was strongly discouraged. Military officials have denied the charges, as have Mr. Khan and his aides.

But analysts said he also over-promised, backing inconsistent and often contradictory policies: he backed a deregulated market economy but also a welfare state. He publicly opposed Islamic militancy, but his government and the military establishment provided a safe haven for the Taliban in northwest Pakistan.

In a desperate bid to stabilize the economy, he turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout in 2019, a move many saw as betraying his campaign promise never to take loans. and foreign aid.

As criticism of his leadership mounted, Mr Khan’s government waged a growing crackdown on dissent. Opposition parties slammed his anti-corruption campaign as one-sided, accusing him of going after his opponents with a vengeance while turning a blind eye to accusations that revolved around members of his cabinet and close friends. . Yet, unlike many of his predecessors, he himself was not accused of corruption.

Human rights groups have criticized his government for its crackdown on the media, in particular. Several journalists known to be critical of Mr. Khan have lost their jobs; others have been intimidated, detained and threatened during organized social media campaigns, according to Human Rights Watch.

Yet his supporters have defended his record, which includes handing out government grants, building shelters and soup kitchens for the poor, and providing health care to low- and middle-income households.

During his tenure, Pakistan has weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively well, sparing the devastation seen in some other parts of the world despite early problems with an overwhelmed and undersupplied healthcare system. Mr Khan attributed the success to a well-coordinated national effort, boosted by the help of the army.

But his foreign policy decisions have become a point of contention.

Seeking more independence from the West, he disengaged from the so-called War on Terror. Last June, he said Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow the CIA to use bases inside Pakistan for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, even before US troops and officials had fully withdrawn from the country, he praised Afghans for “breaking the chains of slavery”.

But the critical blow to his leadership came last year after Pakistani military leaders appeared to withdraw their support, undermining the political stability he had enjoyed for most of his term.

In recent months, the military establishment has loosened its grip on opposition parties, analysts say, paving the way for the no-confidence vote. Days before the vote was scheduled to take place last Sunday, Mr Khan appeared to have lost a majority in parliament and was facing demands to resign.

But he remained defiant, accusing his opponents of being pawns in a US-led plot to impeach him, and claiming a statement from a former Pakistani ambassador to the US contained evidence of a plot . He urged Pakistanis to oppose the “forces of evil” and urged them to oppose his opponents, whom he called “America’s slaves”.

Shehbaz Sharif is expected to take over as caretaker prime minister until the next general election. Mr. Sharif is the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former chief minister of Punjab, the country’s most populous and prosperous province.

The caretaker government he is expected to lead will inherit significant challenges, from soaring inflation to an increasingly polarized political climate that could escalate into unrest on the streets.

“This crisis has created serious problems for Pakistan, in terms of the economy, political polarization and our foreign policy,” said Ijaz Khan, the former chair of the international relations department at the University of Peshawar. “Getting the country out of this will be a serious challenge for any future government.”

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