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  • Hugo Alexandre

Imran Khan: hero of Pakistan, or corrupt elite?


Ever since Pakistan gained its independence from Britain as well as national sovereignty in August 1947, the country has continuously faced both internal and external threats which have eroded social cohesion, national stability and put pressure on Pakistani civil and political life. The pervasive corruption, economic degradation, and lack of respect for the diversity of the country, among other factors, have fueled national grievances (Qadeem, 2021, p. 3), for which Pakistani political and economic institutions have failed to provide peaceful solutions (USIP, 2023, p. 1). Moreover, as tensions have grown over the second half of the 20th century, different groups have sought violent extremism (Qadeem, 2021, pp. 1, 3-5) as an alternative to the failures of the Pakistani politico-economic system, further deteriorating the stability of the country. Most politicians have been accused of some corruption, economic mismanagement, and/or conflict-inducing behaviours, but one has consistently managed to maintain his popularity and support despite such accusations: ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi (Bloomberg, 2022, p. 2; Democracy Now, 2023). But is he really the hero many locals paint him to be, and will he actually improve life in Pakistan, or will he fail to do so like many other Pakistani Politicians?

Pakistan is a country that has continuously experienced decreasing economic and political stability, while facing both domestic conflict, such as the national military fighting with nationalist extremist groups (Qadeem, 2022, pp. 2-3), and international conflict such as with the Taliban (USIP, 2023, p. 1). This dire economic and political situation started to improve around 2008 when peaceful elections took place, leading to the formation of a non-military democratic regime (Akhter, 2013, p. 79). These elections marked a sharp turn from Pakistan being ruled by fully military regimes for more than half of its history to a democratically elected regime led by a coalition of peacefully antagonistic parties (Akhter, 2013, p. 79). The following elections in 2013 were a sign of this improvement considering they marked the end of tenure for the first Pakistani regime to survive a full five-year term and to be succeeded by another democratically elected government (Akhter, 2013, p. 79). These improvements continued in the 2018 elections when Imran Khan was elected Prime Minister, despite accusations of the military rigging the elections (BBC, 2018, pp. 1-3).

Khan, former cricket superstar considered national hero by many Pakistani (Democracy Now, 2023), made campaign promises to, among other goals, improve the dire economic situation of his country, for example by reforming the faulty tax system (Fraser, 2023, p. 2), and to solve Pakistan’s pervasive conflicts and corruption. However, overall expectations were not met (Fraser, 2023, p. 1). He has not succeeded in reducing the impact of the economic crisis. This is evidenced by the soaring inflation, depleting foreign exchange reserves (Bloomberg, 2022, p. 1), the Pakistani Rupee dropping by about 65% in the last year alone, and the Pakistani public debt reaching $270bn, or the equivalent of 78% of the country’s GDP (O’Donnell, 2023, p. 2). Moreover, the corruption index of Pakistan has not decreased under Khan, which he blames on the National Accountability Bureau–the institution responsible for dealing with corruption cases–being controlled by the country’s powerful military. Indeed, Khan has not managed to resolve the internal conflicts of the country, especially those he and his Parliament had with the government and military. It is widely believed that the latter helped Khan win the elections hoping to make him a puppet leader, but he ended up continuously going against them, and undermining their authority and their policies, which nurtured conflict between the two (Democracy Now, 2023; Gravitas Plus, 2022).

These internal conflicts, coupled with economic mismanagement and accusations of mishandling the country’s foreign policies, namely his controversial policies concerning Afghanistan, China, and Russia (Fraser, 2023, p. 2), lead the incumbent Pakistani government to motion a vote of no confidence against him in April 2022 (ANI, 2022, pp. 2-3). Khan claimed that his political opponents were collaborating with the American government which disapproved both Khan’s criticism of American involvement in Afghanistan (Saifi, 2022, p. 3), and the previously mentioned foreign policies. Furthermore, according to Khan, the US aimed to influence and install a new, pro-western Pakistani regime (ANI, 2022, p. 2; Fraser, 2023, p. 2). Khan tried to circumvent the vote of no confidence by dissolving Parliament and calling for a snap election (Fraser, 2023, p. 2), but the supreme court labelled this as unconstitutional and restored the National Assembly (ANI, 2022, p. 3). On April 10th, the Parliament held the session for the vote of no confidence, and 174 of the 342 members voted in favor, which led to the ousting of Imran Khan from his position as Prime Minister of Pakistan (Fraser, 2023, p. 2). Khan was the first Pakistani Prime Minister to lose power due to a vote of no confidence (Fraser, 2023, p. 1).

Both during and after these events, Imran Khan has been filed with over 85 criminal charges, many of which accused him of corruption (O’Donnell, 2023, p. 1). He claims that these are attempts by the incumbent government and the military to discredit him and prevent him from running in the next elections as they are afraid his party will win it due to extensive popular support (O’Donnell, 2023, p. 1, 3). He also claimed that the vote of no confidence was a facade to move attention away from the fact that Shehbaz Sharif, Khan’s replacement as Prime Minister, and his sons were about to get convicted on millions of Rupees of corruption and were conspiring with the American government (VICE News, 2023). In November 2022, an attempt on Khan’s life was made and he was publicly shot in the leg. Khan claims that this was orchestrated by his political opponents, namely the military, who wanted to avoid his participation in the 2023 elections (Al Jazeera, 2023; VICE News, 2023).

Khan was later arrested on May 9th by paramilitary forces at the High Court in Islamabad, where he was to face these charges (Al Jazeera, 2023). This arrest sparked violent protests erupting across Pakistan, which pushed the government to shut down mobile internet, and various institutions such as government offices and schools were closed nation-wide (Al Jazeera, 2023). Furthermore, many rioters were injured, more than 3000 have been arrested, and at least ten were killed (Democracy Now, 2023). On Thursday 11th, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that the arrest was unlawful and invalid, and Khan was granted a two-week bail (Democracy Now, 2023). This means that, unless he is found guilty on some of the charges or if another attempt on his life is made, he would be able to participate in the elections later this year. However, despite his release, the protests have not stopped and neither has the violence against protesters, who are sick of the military holding so much political power and directing the country’s affairs (VICE News, 2023). Pakistani authorities have started trying dozens of protestors and members of Khan’s party in military court which is usually only used for service members or individuals categorised as enemies of the state (Al Jazeera, 2023). Khan believes he will also be tried in Pakistan’s military court– described by Amnesty International as disregarding due process, lacking in transparency, coercing confessions as well as executions after unfair trials–because normal courts would not punish him for the apparently ‘frivolous’ charges he faces (Al Jazeera, 2023).

Khan has argued that this “witch hunt” started when he, as newly-elected Prime Minister, removed General Asim Munir from his post as head of the ISI (Pakistan’s main intelligence agency). No official reason was given for Munir’s removal, but Khan commented he wanted him out of the post due to the way he was running the agency (Al Jazeera, 2023). After Khan was voted out of office, his successor and political rival, PM Shehbaz Sharif, selected Munir as the military’s top general, and Khan believes the latter is holding a grudge which is why he is trying to get him in military court.

Pakistan is a country that has historically faced sustained economic hardship and political conflict, both of which continuously threaten the livelihood of the Pakistani people. Although positive change seemed to arrive between 2008 and 2020, recent developments coupled with increasing hostilities between different authorities have caused an aggravation of the situation. Imran Khan represents a threat to the long-standing power of the Pakistani military and is adored by a significantly large proportion of the population despite failing to considerably improve the Pakistani economic and political systems. The civil unrest that his arrest has created has pushed the incumbent government and the military to take drastic and often harmful measures against rioters, some of which are seen by members of the international community as violations of human rights. The situation seems to be worsening, but depending on Khan’s judgement, and until more evidence comes out concerning the incumbent leaders, we do not have a clear culprit for this country’s dire situation. One thing is sure, whoever holds the most responsibility for it should not be left in power!


Bibliography

Akhter, B. (2013). Pakistan Elections 2013. Pakistan Horizon, 66(3), 79–98.

Al Jazeera English. (2023, May 10). Pakistan protests: Mass anger over Imran Khan arrest [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXf7mrpsR5s

ANI. (2022, April 10). A timeline of how Imran Khan ousted in no-confidence vote. The Economic Times.

Asrar, N.; Siddiqui, U.; & Mohamed, H. (2023, May 10). Imran Khan arrest updates: Court approves 8-day remand for ex-PM. Imran Khan News | Al Jazeera.

BBC News. (2018, July 26). Pakistan election: Imran Khan claims victory amid rigging claims. BBC News.

Bloomberg. (2022, April 13). Majority of Pakistanis supported Imran Khan’s ouster, poll shows. The Times of India.

Fraser, B. S. (2023, May 11). Imran Khan: The cricket hero bowled out as Pakistan’s PM. BBC News.

WION. (2022, April 3). Gravitas Plus: The many shades of Imran Khan. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzGsWK1vYRo

Qadeem, M. (2021, September 17). Gender Responsive Preventive and Remedial Measures to Prevent Violent Extremism: A Practitioner’s Perspective. Pakistan Journal of Terrorism Research, 2(3), pp. 1-22.

Saifi, S., & Mogul, R. (2022, April 11). Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan ousted as country’s leader following vote of no-confidence. CNN.

United States Institute of Peace. (2023). The Current Situation in Pakistan. United States Institute of Peace.

O’Donnell, L. (2023). Imran Khan’s Divisive Politics Are Holding Pakistan’s Economy Hostage. Foreign Policy.

VICE News. (2023, March 24). Imran Khan Talks Cricket, the Taliban and Being Ousted from Power | VWN Meets [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yO6Hei2TGk4

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