Pakistani cricketer turned prime minister Imran Khan loses job

Considered a crafty cricket captain during his international playing days, Imran Khan found himself on a sticky wicket when it came to leading Pakistan.

The 69-year-old prime minister was removed from office on Sunday following a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, days after he believed he had stalled the opposition by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election.

The Supreme Court ruled his action illegal on Thursday, and having lost his majority in the assembly, Khan ran out of options.

Khan enjoyed genuine popular support when he became prime minister in 2018, but critics say he failed to deliver on promises to revitalize the economy and improve the lives of the poor.

Imran Khan was removed from office by a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly Photo: AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR

Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was voted in by millions who grew up watching him play cricket, where he excelled as an all-around player and led Pakistan to Cup victory of the world in 1992.

The PTI overthrew decades of rule by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) – two usually feuding groups that joined forces to overthrow it.

Khan’s vision was for Pakistan to become a welfare state modeled on the Islamic Golden Age of the 7th to 14th centuries, a period of cultural, economic and scientific flourishing in the Muslim world.

But he has made little progress in improving Pakistan’s financial situation, with soaring inflation, crippling debt and a weak rupee undermining economic reform.

The security situation has also deteriorated under his leadership, particularly since the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.

The 69-year-old Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was elected by millions who grew up watching Khan play cricket The 69-year-old Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was elected by millions who grew up watching Khan play cricket Photo: AFP/ARIF ALI

The Oxford-educated son of a wealthy Lahore family, Khan had a reputation as a playboy until his retirement from international cricket.

For years he busied himself with charity projects, raising millions to build a cancer hospital in honor of his mother.

Khan excelled as an all-rounder and led the nation to World Cup victory in 1992 Khan excelled as an all-rounder and led the nation to World Cup victory in 1992 Photo: AFP/STEPHEN DUPONT

He tiptoed into politics and for years held the only parliamentary seat in the PTI.

But the party grew enormously under General Pervez Musharraf’s military government, becoming a real force in the 2013 elections before winning a majority five years later.

However, leading the country proved more difficult than remaining in opposition.

Double-digit inflation has pushed up the cost of basic goods, and while the economy is expected to grow 4% this year, it has stalled for the past three years.

Pakistan has also had to borrow heavily just to service nearly $130 billion in external debt.

Khan attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics when most world leaders stayed away to protest China's human rights record Khan attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics when most world leaders stayed away to protest China’s human rights record Photo: POOL via AFP/Carl COURT

The increasingly unstable security situation illustrated by the return to power of the Taliban across the border in mid-August also contributed to Khan’s downfall.

The victory for the extremist Islamists was initially seen as a victory, both for Pakistan – long accused of supporting them – as well as for a prime minister nicknamed “Taliban Khan” for his constant advocacy of dialogue and his criticism American policy towards Kabul.

But attacks by the Pakistani Taliban themselves – as well as the local Islamic State (IS-K) group and ethnic Baloch separatists – have increased despite assurances from Kabul that Afghan soil would not be used for such purposes.

Pakistan’s military is key to political power, and some analysts say Khan has lost his crucial support, which both sides deny.

Khan’s efforts to position Pakistan as a key non-aligned regional player have also been successful.

Ties with the United States have frayed, with Khan accusing Washington of working with the opposition for regime change.

Islamabad has moved closer to China, although major work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has slowed.

He also moved closer to Russia, angering the West by continuing a visit to Moscow on the same day Ukraine was invaded.

Khan had some domestic success.

He is credited with making Pakistan relatively free from the Covid-19 pandemic, and a free universal healthcare scheme he pioneered is slowly being rolled out across the country.

Khan frequently speaks out against Western permissiveness, sparking outrage from rights groups by repeatedly linking rape to the way women dress in a deeply patriarchal country where sexual violence is rampant.

Married three times, his current wife Bushra Bibi comes from a conservative family and wears the veil in public.

Often described as impulsive and hot-headed, he frequently draws on analogies to cricket to describe his political battles.

“I fight until the very last ball. I never give up, no matter what the outcome,” he said in an address to the nation last week.

On Sunday he was fired.

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