By Owei Lakemfa
SOMETIMES the difference between a coup and a democratic process can be so narrow as to be interchangeable. The move to oust Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had been in the offing for some time, but there were questions of methodology, and how the populace may react.
This was more so when his replacement was likely to come from the controversial family of Nawaz Sharif who leads the Pakistan Muslim League.
Khan as the opposition leader had got the Supreme Court in 2017 to indict him for using off-shore holding companies to buy luxury properties in London. Nawaz had fled to Britain before the indictment. His daughter Maryam and her husband, Muhammad Safdar, had also been indicted.
As the plotters made their moves to effect the regime change through a vote of no-confidence in parliament and started enticing legislators, the former international cricket star publicly identified them. On March 27, 2022, he told the public that the United States, US, was engineering and co-ordinating the regime change and cobbling together an internal alliance of questionable Pakistani politicians and some elements in the military.
At the rally, he produced a diplomatic cable from Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US which allegedly contained threats by high-ranking US officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, that unless Khan’s government is replaced, there can be no improved relations between both countries. A diplomatic way of demanding the replacement of the Khan government.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari had tweeted in reaction to the moves to unseat Khan, that his independent foreign policy “does not sit well with those powers which have viewed Pakistan as a state where leaders are subservient to foreign diktat; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged because of his independent foreign policy; regime change is a frequent tool of powerful states and allies with vested interests from within.” The cable from the ambassador had been received on March 7, 2022, and the next day, the opposition requisitioned the National Assembly for a vote of no-confidence against Khan.
There is a saying in Nigeria that if the witch cried in the night, and the child dies in the morning, who does not know that it was the witch that cried at night that killed the child? It was obvious the Pakistani opposition parties were acting out a script that Khan’s government claimed had been crafted in Washington.
To be sure, Khan had in the eyes of the US, committed a number of sins as leader of a hitherto subservient country. The America Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, had since the 1980s run the Pakistani intelligence with which it created, trained and hosted the Mujahedeen.
It was a group of young Muslims like Osaman Bin Laden recruited across the Arab world to fight Soviet troops stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan and overthrow that country’s pro-communist governments. That war was presented to the youths as a jihad to remove godless people from power. The Mujahedeen later mutated into various groups like al-Qaeda, the terrorist Pakistani Taliban, the nationalist Afghanistan Taliban and arms of the Islamic State, ISIS.
One of Khan’s capital sins was to try to run a foreign policy independent of the US. He also had the guts not just to criticise the American occupation of Afghanistan but also to call for international support and funding for the new Taliban government that had forced America and Western powers to flee that country in August 2021, after 20 years of occupation.
On the day Russian troops rolled into Ukraine, Khan was making a previously scheduled visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. One of the ‘sins’ he committed was his refusal to condemn Russia or support Ukraine.
To him, it was a war in that Pakistan should not be involved as it has close military and economic ties with both countries, including being a major importer of Ukrainian wheat.
Khan argued that the best solution is to get both sides to the negotiation table saying: “Now, what we want to do does not become part of any bloc. We want to have trading relations with all countries… The countries that rely on a military conflict have not studied history properly.” Khan added that: “The developing world really wishes that there is not another Cold War.” He offered to organise peace talks between the warring parties, but America and its allies were not interested in either a ceasefire or negotiated settlement in Ukraine.
When on March 1, 2022, the heads of 22 Western diplomatic missions in Islamabad released a joint letter asking Pakistan to support a resolution at the United Nations condemning Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, Khan retorted: “What do you think of us? Are we your slaves…that whatever you say, we will do?” At the UN, Pakistan abstained.
The Khan government is credited with handling quite well the COVID-19 pandemic through its ‘smart lockdown strategy’ leading to The Economist rating it as the ‘third-best performing country’ in handling the pandemic.
The administration within 22 months reduced the trade deficit from $37 billion to $21 billion and the current account deficit from $20 billion to $3 billion. Within the same period, the State Bank reserves increased from $9.7 billion to $12.3 billion, tax collection increased by 17 per cent and 11.4 million people in Punjab alone received insurance cover.
Interestingly, the charges against Imran Khan include double-digit inflation, especially during the COVID-19 period and the devaluation of the currency. As the plot to remove him thickened, Imran Khan whose power resides with the Pakistani masses, not the parliament, decided to dissolve parliament and call early elections which he hoped would change the configuration of the parliament. But the Supreme Court on April 7, 2022, ruled his move, illegal. Two days later, 174 members of the National Assembly passed a no-confidence vote on him.
Khan was replaced by Nawaz’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, a man facing corruption charges for involvement in an Rs18 billion housing scam. Shahbaz and his sons, Hamza and Salman, also face a Rs7 billion money laundering charge while his son-in-law, Ali Imran Yousuf fled to Britain to avoid corruption charges. Khan turned to the populace and told them: “You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who have to protect your democracy, your sovereignty, and your independence … this is your duty.”
An estimated 10 million Pakistanis harkened to Khan’s appeal by pouring out into the streets. So, while Imran Khan has fallen from power, he has not fallen in the streets; he has become the major issue in Pakistani politics. Pakistan is scheduled to go to the polls in August 2023 and Imran Khan, barring foreign and military interventions, has a strong chance of returning to power.