On 10 April 2022, the Pakistan National Assembly voted, by a razor-thin majority of 2, in favour of a motion of No Confidence in the government of Imran Khan, removing him from the office of Prime Minister. In his place it elected Shehbaz Sharif.
Shehbaz Sharif hails from one of the two main political dynasties of Pakistan, these being the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. He is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was removed from office by the Supreme Court in 2017 because of undeclared and unexplained wealth.
After being installed as the new Prime Minister, Mr Sharif accused Khan’s government of being – don’t laugh – corrupt, incompetent and laid-back.
The Sharifs and Bhuttos, who disagree with each other on almost everything else, were united in alliance after Khan’s electoral victory, with just a one-point programme of getting rid of Khan’s government.
“Welcome back to old Pakistan”, said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the opposition People’s Party of Pakistan and son of the assassinated former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. “Democracy is the best revenge”, he added.
His remarks can only have one meaning, namely, that, having got rid of someone whom they regarded as an outside intruder, Pakistan was back in the vicelike rotating grip of the Sharifs and Bhuttos, who have led several civilian governments since the 1970s, though for half of Pakistan’s birth in 1947 it was under open military rule. The fact is that even when Pakistan has had an apparently civilian government, the latter has always been under the thumb of the military who are the real power in the land.
Imran Khan, having lost the support of a coalition ally as well as some lawmakers from his own Pakistan Justice Party, attempted to thwart the proposed No Confidence motion by dissolving parliament. However, the Supreme Court then declared this motion for dissolution unconstitutional and ordered Parliament to debate and vote on the No Confidence motion tabled by the opposition, thus paving the way for Mr Khan to be given the singular distinction of being the first Pakistani premier to be removed by a No Confidence vote.
That Pakistan’s political divisions are sharper than ever could clearly be seen as Mr Sharif delivered his victory speech to a nearly half-empty chamber. Khan’s 168 supporters in the 342-seat National Assembly walked out in protest, leaving the remaining 174 to vote Mr Sharif into office.
It is the view of well-informed observers of the Pakistani political scene that Mr Khan could be a potent disruptive force against the newly-installed Sharif government. Mr Khan’s term in office may have ended but his politics may prove stronger.
Mr Khan has asserted that his removal from office was orchestrated by the US, a message that resonates with popular anti-American sentiment. Not unexpectedly, the US has denied any involvement in the whole affair.
Khan’s future depends to a large extent on the new government’s ability to respond to popular grievances, which in turn depends on its ability to turn around the country’s economy which is in an awful mess. This is not going to be easy, notwithstanding Shehbaz Sharif’s reputation as a competent administrator – a reputation he earned as the Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan’s largest province).
The next election in the country is scheduled to start with the dissolution of the current parliament in 2023. However, the electoral body will have to take a decision whether or not to stage by-elections soon, following the resignation of Khan-allied MPs.
On the economic front, with global commodity prices soaring, the country is experiencing double-digit inflation, while, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, food prices have increased no less than 13% year-on-year as at last March. Khan had to deal with a $6bn IMF loan programme, involving unpopular measures such as increased fuel prices and decreased public subsidies.
In addition to the economic problems, the Sharif brothers have been dogged by allegations of corruption, which they claim are politically motivated. Nawaz Sharif was serving a 7-year jail sentence for corruption when he received special permission to visit the UK for medical treatment in 2019, where he has remained ever since. It is reported, though, that, since the change of government in Pakistan, with his younger brother installed as Prime Minister, his health has registered a remarkable recovery enabling him to return to Pakistan in the near future.
In the face of mounting problems, especially on the economic front, can the Bhuttos and Sharifs maintain their alliance? The two dynasties have been thrown into each other’s arms as the military seeks to reduce their influence. The military entertains deep contempt for both these parties, which are corrupt in the extreme and have stolen hundreds of billions of dollars over the years, as indeed have the army chief brass.
“The freedom struggle begins today against a foreign conspiracy of regime change”, tweeted Khan on Sunday 10. April, just after the No Confidence vote. He asked his supporters to come out into the streets peacefully to protest against the foreign-imposed government. The masses have responded in massive number, surprising even Mr Khan. There have been huge demonstrations all across Pakistan. In the circumstances, the future of the new Sharif government is very shaky indeed.
By the very nature of its founding ideology, Pakistan’s governments have perforce rested on an alliance of the mosque and the military and the backing of US imperialism. No government which offends the military or the US can survive for long. So the question that has to be asked is what has Khan done to fall foul of the US and the army?
Even before he won the 2018 election, Khan was a vocal critic of US imperialism’s so-called war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan, and of drone attacks in Pakistan. In August last year he openly welcomed the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the humiliating exit of the US from that country after 20 long years of waging war against the Afghan people.
To the chagrin of US imperialism, Pakistan refused to condemn the Russian Federation in regard to the latter’s special operation in Ukraine. He happened to be in the Kremlin meeting Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, just as the Russian armed forces began this operation. “We are not your slaves” was his response to a letter from the ambassador of the EU in Islamabad demanding that Pakistan condemn Russia. Although Pakistan has been close to China for several decades and the Americans have just about stomached that, his attempt to construct a non-aligned and independent foreign policy sent the Americans incandescent. Pakistan’s abstention on the UN General Assembly’s resolution seeking to condemn Russia was, as far as US imperialism was concerned, a step too far.
Then there was the failure of the Khan government fully to abide by the terms of the $6bn IMF programme which was a source of annoyance to the US.
As regards the Pakistani military, which is reliably believed to have helped Khan to win the 2018 election, he fell out with it last October after a clash with the Chief of Army Staff over who should lead the powerful spy agency the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence).
As a result, Mr Khan had earned the hostility of US imperialism, the military, the entire political class and the media. He had made no headway in dealing with the economy or routing out corruption – the two promises he had made to get elected.
The coming days and months will show to what extent he can face and defeat his powerful opponents through the mobilisation of the masses. The scale and scope of the protests in the wake of his removal indicate that he stands a good chance of being able to expose the PPP and PML-Nawaz as stooges of US imperialism and the army high command, particularly as there are divisions within the military. While the top brass of the army are pro-imperialist and against him, the vast majority of the officer corps, and ordinary soldiers, are likely to support Khan’s critical attitude towards US imperialism.
We wish the Pakistani masses success in foiling the regime change that has been effected by US imperialism in collaboration with the top brass of the Pakistani army.