Pakistan in political disarray as it celebrates national day

Odds looked stacked against Premier Imran Khan as vote of no confidence looms.

 Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) run amid the smoke of tear gas during a protest demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, in Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHSIN RAZA/FILE PHOTO)
Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) run amid the smoke of tear gas during a protest demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, in Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 2021.

Pakistan celebrated its 82nd National Day on Wednesday as political turmoil threatens to bring down Prime Minister Imran Khan. The opposition says his government is responsible for the economic crisis and the upsurge of inflation in the country.

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The holiday commemorates the passage of the Lahore Resolution on March 23, 1940, in which Muslims of the subcontinent set the agenda for a separate homeland for themselves. It also marks the adoption of the first Constitution of Pakistan on March 23, 1956, creating the world’s first Islamic republic.

Participants in the 48th Session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers held on March 22-23, including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, were special guests at the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad.

Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmad Babar led the flyover formation of fighter jets, including J-10Cs, F-16s, Mirages and P-3C aircraft. China’s fourth-generation Chengdu J-10 C fighter jets have recently been inducted into the Pakistan Air Force.

Military contingents from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan also took part in the military parade.

 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021 (credit: Saiyna Bashir/REUTERS) Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021 (credit: Saiyna Bashir/REUTERS)

Khan, 69, a former cricket legend who was elected prime minister in 2018, is facing the toughest challenge of his political career as opposition parties are set to expel him through a vote on a motion of no confidence in parliament.

The vote on the motion is likely to be held on Friday.

The opposition’s no-confidence motion against the prime minister, along with the defection of allied parliamentarians, sounds the alarm for Khan’s continued rule.

The party he founded in 1996, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 155 lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament and needs at least 172 legislators on its side to retain its majority in the 342-member National Assembly in order to continue leading the government.

Khan’s party relies on the support of coalition partners to stay in power; however, coalition allies – 23 parliamentarians belonging to six political parties – have so far refused to support him.

To make things worse, 24 Tehreek-e-Insaf members have threatened to vote against Khan on the no-confidence motion.

According to the country’s constitution, the prime minister must leave office if a majority of lawmakers approves a no-confidence motion.

An Islamabad-based intelligence official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity that “Western embassies are closely monitoring Pakistan’s political situation.”

“To monitor a post-no trust situation, the US embassy in Islamabad has established a special cell, while embassies of other countries have also started sending reports to their respective countries on the political situation,” the intelligence official said.

Meanwhile, Khan has said the opposition parties face defeat on the no-confidence motion.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad on Wednesday, Khan said that “the opposition parties have shown all their cards. We will give a big surprise to the opposition.”

The premier added that he will not resign under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, Khan, in his keynote address to the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad on Tuesday, said that “the Muslim countries should not drag themselves into bloc politics and rather show their power for bringing peace in the world.”

Khan categorically stated that the “strong voice of the OIC as a representative body of 1.5 billion people is decisive to address lingering issues of Palestine and Kashmir.”

The OIC is the second-largest organization after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 states spread over Asia, Europe (Albania), Africa and South America (Guyana and Suriname), which covers almost all Muslim countries.

Uzra Zeya, the under secretary of state for civil security, democracy and human rights, led the US delegation to the conference; special representatives from several other Western countries also attended the event.

Adeeb Ul Zaman Safvi, a Karachi-based senior defense expert and a retired Pakistan Navy captain, told The Media Line that “the US, the failing superpower, was jolted by Imran Khan’s ‘absolutely not’ stance on the positioning of military bases in Pakistan after the shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

As a consequence, he claimed: “The US realized that its interests in the region would not be served by Imran Khan. Thus, US policymakers adopted its SOP [standard operating procedure] for ‘regime change,’ which is continuing unabated.”

The vote of no-confidence motion has been fueled and funded by the CIA network, Safvi asserted.

“The present US ambassador, considered a specialist in bringing down regimes, has been appointed to do the job. We have seen him at work, meeting with opposition leadership,” he said.

The US embassy in Islamabad currently is led by a woman, interim chargé d’affaires Angela Aggeler; but Donald Blome, who serves as ambassador to Tunisia, has been confirmed by the US Senate and is awaiting his swearing-in as ambassador to Pakistan.

“It is his collaboration that has brought all opposition leaders together, who otherwise have been ‘daggers drawn’ against each other,” Safvi said.

“There is a distinct convergence of interest between the US and opposition parties in the removal of Khan as PM. Thus, the US finds it expedient that opposition parties are used to achieve its objectives,” he said.

In response to a question from The Media Line, Safvi said that “Khan’s decisions in the international arena have sent a message of independent, friendly and nonaligned foreign policy. His visit to Russia, on February 23-24 became a turning point, opening a new page of the bilateral relationship.”

Mehmood Jan Babar, a Peshawar-based seasoned geopolitical and strategic analyst, told The Media Line: “There is political turmoil in the country, and the opposition coalition, including the civil bureaucracy, are worried about their future if Khan continues in office.

“The opposition is convinced that if Khan succeeds in appointing a new army chief of his choice, he [Khan] will be more powerful and could remain the prime minister for the next five years,” Babar said.

“Unfortunately, Khan is an egoist. He does not consider anyone accurate except himself. It is quite difficult for an egoistic person” to run a country’s government, he said.

After he came to power, Khan ignored the veteran politicians and gathered around himself mafia leaders. As a consequence, his peers felt they were being treated as untouchables, Babar explained.

“On the other hand, if Imran Khan had delivered properly, the political situation would never have reached this point, and even so it was not easy for the divided opposition to table the no-confidence move against him,” he said.

“After taking unwise steps at the national level, Khan tried to conduct foreign policy in the same manner, which inevitably caused damage to the country,” Babar said. “Khan visited Russia at a controversial time when, despite global criticism, Russia invaded Ukraine, and then at a public meeting Khan sharply criticized the European Union. Khan’s behavior offended the United States and other Western nations that were closer to him than to any other ruler [of Pakistan] in the past,” he added.

“If Pakistan is somehow surviving, this is not due to Khan’s vision but to its strategic location. The world needs Pakistan,” Babar said.

In search of insight into Khan’s recent visit to Moscow, The Media Line spoke with Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security and South Asia analyst.

“Pakistan is facing increasing pressure from China to move to the Russia-China-Iran camp,” she said.

“Despite Pakistan’s lack of involvement in Ukraine and that region in general, Imran Khan, in an effort to preserve credibility, thought that he could both accommodate China, send a signal to the US not to ignore its formerly close ally, and also appeal to Russia as a potential partner on various issues. However, that move backfired,” Tsukerman said.

“Without taking into confidence his Western friends, Imran Khan visited Moscow at a crucial time when Russia was threatening NATO countries over the Ukraine crisis, so it is a natural phenomenon for friends to be upset,” she said.

“Khan’s political move backfired for him personally, which means future governments will be far more cautious and conservative in general and will likely fall back on old-school strategies in terms of geopolitical influence,” Tsukerman said.

Professor Adrian Calamel, an expert on the Middle East and regional security at the State University of New York’s Finger Lakes Community College, told The Media Line that “Khan has shown that he cannot rule. His problems are domestic, tied to economic glitches, so he’s resorting to anti-Western hyperbole that is a part of his DNA.”

“Whether Khan loses or remains in power, I don’t see Pakistan recalibrating. It’ll remain aligned with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran,” the professor said.

“Looking at the region and Afghanistan, for example, 20 years ago the United States was looking to Pakistan for assistance, whereas the last three American administrations shifted to Qatar, which they wrongly believe is a good ‘cut-out’ for dealing with the Taliban,” Calamel said.

Qatar has replaced Pakistan as a country that America turns to when attempting to deal with rogue regimes,” he continued.

The more Khan sounds like Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the more America will look to “a savvy Doha that has capitalized on the fractured [US] relationship with Pakistan,” Calamel said.