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Is Pakistan Headed for Military Rule (Again)?

Is Pakistan Headed for Military Rule (Again)?

In recent times, Pakistan has been in a state of constant political crisis. This turmoil began when Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister, was removed from power in April of the previous year. Since then, Khan has been traversing the country, demanding fresh elections, which he is likely to win, and accusing the new government of being puppets of the CIA and the Pakistani army.

The government, on the other hand, has accused Khan of violating various laws during his tenure, which could potentially bar him from running for office in the future. In this article, we will delve into Khan’s recent arrests, the ensuing protests, and the escalating confrontation between Khan and the Pakistani army.

The Economic Background

To understand the current political situation, we need to start with Pakistan’s economy and its long-standing issues. Successive Pakistani governments have borrowed and spent more than they could afford, often to subsidize inefficient state-owned businesses and to cover Pakistan’s massive military budget. This military expenditure accounts for about 20% of Pakistan’s total government expenditure, roughly twice the global average of 2%.

The Pakistani army still wields significant political power in the country, even though it is nominally a democracy. As such, governments need to keep the Army content if they want to stay in power. This has resulted in a fluctuation between civilian and military governments, with the Army staging coups whenever it disagreed with the government of the time. The last coup occurred in 1999, and the military only relinquished power in 2007.

Imran Khan’s Tenure and Economic Crisis

When Imran Khan ran for prime minister in 2018, he promised to end Pakistan’s economic crisis by eradicating corruption, taxing Pakistan’s elite, and refusing any further IMF loans. His party, known as PTI, won with 43% of the seats in that election. However, almost immediately after taking office, Pakistan entered another debt crisis, largely due to excessive borrowing from previous administrations.

Khan’s handling of this crisis was less than optimal, as he flip-flopped with the IMF, delaying the bailout and exacerbating the crisis. The situation worsened with the onset of the pandemic when global food and fuel prices started to rise. This global issue particularly affected Pakistan due to its dependence on imports and weak currency. A stagnant economy, high inflation, and the return of the IMF pushed Khan’s approval ratings down.

Political Upheaval and Khan’s Ousting

In March of the previous year, Khan’s coalition partners deserted him, forcing a vote of no confidence which Khan looked set to lose. In a last-ditch attempt to save his government, Khan declared the vote as unconstitutional and challenged the opposition to a fresh round of elections.

The opposition didn’t bite and instead took the case to Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which declared Khan’s action as unconstitutional and removed him from office. Khan was then replaced by Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of Mr Khan’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif and the leader of the opposition.

The Current Situation and Khan’s Arrests

Despite his ousting, Khan has been touring the country, demanding new elections and accusing the government of being foreign puppets. Polls suggest that Pakistanis agree with Khan’s call for a new election, and these same polls suggest that he would win the election by a landslide. This has led the government to postpone local elections and accuse Khan of breaking a multitude of laws while in office, mostly related to corruption.

The authorities have tried to arrest Khan on multiple occasions but have struggled to do so because Khan has refused to leave his house, claiming that he’s at risk of assassination. The latest attempt came on May 9th when Khan was arrested inside the high court in Islamabad by the National Accountability Bureau, a Pakistani Security Service headed by a retired General.

Khan reacted furiously, accusing the Army and the general of carrying out an illegal abduction. This arrest sparked massive protests, with PTI supporters being accused by the government and establishment of attacking military installations. At least 25 people were killed during these protests, and thousands have since been arrested, including some senior PTI officials.

The Brewing Showdown

There’s a showdown brewing between Imran Khan and the Pakistani military. In the past, the military has always come out on top against Pakistan’s politicians, but Khan’s unique popularity among younger Pakistanis means that the outcome is perhaps not as predetermined as history would suggest.

Pakistan Army Chief Asim Munir
Pakistan Army Chief Asim Munir

The Army is also caught in a bit of a catch-22. Every time they try and arrest or shut Khan up, they play into his narrative that he’s a martyr standing up for the people against an incompetent, corrupt establishment.

While this political chaos might exacerbate Pakistan’s economic crisis in the near term, Khan is probably right that the Army still has too much influence in Pakistan’s politics. This will need to change if Pakistan wants to achieve economic and political stability.

It’s not to say that Khan is beyond reproach, as his campaign is partially driven by his own political interest. But it shouldn’t be controversial to say that in the 21st century, Pakistan’s government doesn’t need to be nannied by its military.

In conclusion, the political landscape in Pakistan is becoming increasingly complicated, both politically and economically. The outcome of the brewing showdown between Imran Khan and the Pakistani military is uncertain, but it is clear that for Pakistan to achieve economic and political stability, the military’s influence in politics will need to be reduced.