the en masse resignation of Pakistani lawmakers Tehreek-e-Insaf, excluding dissenters, from the country’s National Assembly is not surprising. It’s in the character of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maverick political style. It seems he would rather destroy the system than accept the humiliation of being ousted. Even democratic change is not acceptable to his ego.
Leaving the National Assembly, he seeks to dismantle the whole edifice. Even in government, the former Prime Minister never really got out of his container.
the election of Shehbaz Sharif as the new Prime Minister put an ironic twist on the country’s checkered politics. It is considered to be the restoration of the old order after a three and a half year experience with “naya Pakistan”. A major challenge for the new government is to bring political stability to the country and stem the economic slide. The challenge demands tough measures to prevent an economic collapse.
More importantly, the Sharif government must work to reduce the polarization that prevails in the country. The transfer of power may have ended the uncertainty that has gripped the country in recent weeks, but the political crisis is far from over. It will be extremely difficult for a coalition made up of disparate political parties, with varied political agendas, to keep its promises. But an inclusive government could help build bridges.
In his first speech after his election, the new prime minister set out a clear agenda for his administration that could run until the end of the year before a general election is called. Certainly, the economy is at the top of the list of priorities. But it is equally important to reset the foreign policy of the country which had lost its sense of direction under Khan.
It is a good decision on the part of the new Prime Minister to urgently convene a meeting of the Security Committee of the Pakistani Parliament to investigate the foreign conspiracy allegations to achieve regime change. There may be no truth to this theory, but clearing up the false narrative built around a cable from a former ambassador to Washington is imperative. The episode damaged the country’s image internationally, with political implications in the country. The issue was used by the Pakistani government Tehreek-e-Insaf to overthrow the country’s constitution.
What happened last week plunged the country into a constitutional crisis. Khan’s actions were evidence of his contempt for the constitutional process. It may have appeared that he had “accepted” the decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court which declared on April 3 dissolution of the National Assembly illegal, but the reality was different. The great drama that took place on April 9 in the Assembly, before the vote of no confidence, showed his contempt for the law.
Every effort was made by his party to obstruct the work of the National Assembly, and it was only minutes before the deadline set by the Supreme Court expired that the vote was called. The threat of imminent legal action forced the President to back down. It was a shameful exit from power by a leader who never stopped lecturing on Western democratic values and morality.
Support for Khan
The false narrative of a “foreign plot” against the Khan government failed to prevent the collapse of the former ruling coalition and stop defections from the former prime minister’s own party. His decision to leave the National Assembly is another example of his recklessness.
He is now back in the ‘container’, marking the start of what he describes as a ‘freedom struggle’ against the ‘foreign regime change conspiracy’. He vows to bring down what he calls an “imported regime”. Such ultra-nationalist populist rhetoric has galvanized its supporters, as evidenced by large public rallies across the country. But that cannot change the political dynamic.
Given the long history of outside involvement in Pakistani politics, many members of the educated urban middle class tend to believe the “foreign conspiracy” narrative. Support for Imran Khan has certainly skyrocketed, but he cannot be considered a game changer. Many of his supporters equate the protests across the country with the so-called Arab Spring that brought down some authoritarian dispensations in West Asia. Nothing could be more illusory than to draw such a parallel.
A major question is whether Imran Khan can build and sustain a mass movement to force the new government to call a snap election. Its one-track strategy has neither worked in the past nor can it work now, with the changing social dynamics of the country. He appears to have learned nothing from his 2014 dharna which failed to disrupt the system, despite tacit support from a section of the security establishment.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s decision to resign from the Assembly will leave the parliamentary field open to rivals and could further divide the party. The absence of parliament may negatively affect the electoral base of the party, with a few months remaining for the general elections.
One wonders if Khan himself ever believed in the parliamentary process. He rarely attended the sessions of the Assembly. There is no instance in Pakistan where a ruling party has acted as an opposition party. For Khan, all other political leaders are corrupt and he would rather not sit with them. His greatest failure was his inability to work within the system. His capacity for governance was limited as evidenced by his arbitrary decisions and frequent changes in his team.
His high-handedness, self-righteousness and lack of understanding of statecraft were the main reasons for his downfall and not an outside conspiracy. He survived in power as long as he did, despite leading a minority government, thanks to the support provided by the security establishment. He fell as soon as the crutches were removed. But even though the hybrid regime has come to an end, Imran Khan’s reckless politics and populist rhetoric will continue to haunt the country.
This article first appeared in Dawn.