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Explained: What Imran Khan’s ouster as Pakistan Prime Minister means for India

Imran Khan, whose political career did not quite end the way his professional cricketing career did, lost the no-trust vote late on Saturday, with 174 members in the 342-strong House voting in favour of the resolution. What does it mean from New Delhi's perspective? Will it open new channels for talks?

Imran Khan, Pakistan Prime Imran Khan, Imran Khan no-confidence motion, Pakistan government, Pakistan news, Indian express news, Express Explained, Explained Global, Explained Politics, World news, Indian Express, Indian Express World newsImran Khan is the first Prime Minister of Pakistan to have lost a no-confidence motion. (Photo: Reuters)

On April 10, 1973, Pakistan’s Parliament approved its Constitution. On the same date 49 years later, a Prime Minister of that country was ousted following a no-confidence vote, as 174 members in the 342-member House voted in favour of the resolution against Imran Khan. Shehbaz Sharif, brother of former PM Nawaz Sharif, is likely to replace Imran Khan, with a vote expected in the National Assembly on Monday.

How will this change play out for India? From New Delhi’s perspective, five key takeaways:

Pakistan’s democracy

Pakistan’s flawed democracy is still seen as a “guided democracy”. No elected Prime Minister there has ever completed his or her five-year term. The first, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated on October 16, 1951. After him, seven PMs resigned, five faced dismissal, while four were ousted through military coups. Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani were disqualified due to their convictions by the Supreme Court.

Three PMs — Shaukat Aziz, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — relinquished office on the completion of the National Assembly’s five-year term, but they had come into office to complete the remainder of the terms of their predecessors who had been disqualified or had resigned. That list includes Nawaz Sharif, who had to quit as PM four times during his three terms.

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According to an analysis by Dawn, Sharif has to his credit the longest run at 3,422 days; Imran Khan is at number six at 1,335 days.

While this is the first time a sitting PM in Pakistan has been voted out, this has been a normal occurrence in India. This suggests democracy in Pakistan is gradually finding its feet, albeit with some help from the military establishment.

Imran Khan’s downfall

Khan, the cricketer, had arrived in politics as an unknown, since he didn’t belong to the mainstream parties. That meant that he did not carry any historical baggage, but eventually he became unpopular each passing day.


“Building on his cricketing success and cancer hospital, Imran Khan worked relentlessly for decades at self-promotion. His growing cult swallowed story after story: corruption would end in 90 days; the national treasury would overflow once ‘looted dollars’ stashed by political rivals in secret overseas accounts were brought back,” Pakistan’s eminent scientist and columnist Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote in a column in Dawn. “Naya Pakistan would overflow with milk and honey… Jobs would be aplenty, the justice system would be overhauled, civil service officers appointed purely on merit, and the police system revamped,” Hoodbhoy wrote.

“Naya Pakistan” did not turn out the way it was dreamt to be. Dawn found that out of the 51 promises in the manifesto of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), only two were complete and six hadn’t even started.

Pakistan’s economy has been it by massive inflation, an outcome of the government’s economic mismanagement, with many pushed to poverty. Pakistan’s GDP has fallen from $315 billion in 2018 to $292 billion in 2022. It has now been asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout packages and its dependence on China has increased.


Many believe Khan’s ill-timed visit to Moscow was an outcome of its overt dependence on Beijing. His remarks trying to blame Washington for the “hidden hand” against his government’s downfall was possibly the last straw for the Pakistan Army, making his continuance as PM untenable.

Falling out with Army

Many in Pakistan say it was the Army that “selected” Khan for Prime Minister in 2018, after the Sharifs fell out of favour with the military establishment.

Rawalpindi thought it had got a “puppet” Prime Minister in Islamabad. After all, Khan’s initial foray into politics after his retirement from cricket and philanthropic work in the form of the cancer hospital, was handheld by former ISI chief Hamid Gul — the brain behind terror activities in India through the 1990s and 2000s. Imran Khan always flaunted his USP: that the Pakistan Army and his government were “on the same page”.

But this cosy relationship broke last year, as Khan tried to block the appointment of the Army’s pick Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the new ISI chief, instead backing Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to continue. It was reported that Khan struck a deal with Lt Gen Hameed: Khan would help him become Army chief, and the he would then help Khan win another term in 2023. But Army chief Gen Gen Qamar Bajwa got wind of this and put his foot down, sending Hameed on a posting away from Rawalpindi while bringing in Lt Gen Anjum.

As Khan kept sitting on the orders from the Army, that was the breaking point between the two. Khan relented after three weeks, but the damage was already done. The Army finally decided to dump Khan, making it clear that no political leader can survive without its support. Gen Bajwa, who retires in November, now has the chips with the new PM and the ruling coalition as the Army chief bargains for an extension beyond November 2022. Many analysts say this is the real power transition.


Return of the Sharifs

Four years ago, the Sharifs were defeated and out of favour. Now, they are back in the game.

It was Shehbaz Sharif who moved the no-confidence motion, and he has worked his way into getting the support of the Pakistan Army. Nawaz Sharif, who is in London, was remembered by his brother during his speech after the motion.


Shehbaz Sharif, who has been the chief minister of Pakistan’s key Punjab province, has always been under the shadow of his brother. But his ties with the Pakistan Army are deep. Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir wrote in The Indian Express in July 2017 that Shehbaz was offered the Prime Minister’s position by the Army at least three times (1992, 1993 and 2016) but refused to ditch his brother.

What is important for India is that the Sharif family has always been very positive about improving relations with India. Shehbaz visited India in December 2013, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, and went on a visit to Metro stations, power plant among other infrastructure projects. He had also visited Punjab where he met the then CM and his deputy CM, Parkash and Sukhbir Badal, and issued a joint statement on cooperation between the two Punjabs.


In an interaction with journalists, including from The Indian Express, he pitched hard for the resumption of “peaceful dialogue” on all issues including “Sir Creek, Siachen, water and Kashmir”.

Sharif, who met Prime Minister Singh, had said, “I told him that both trade and commerce have to be combined with strategic issues…only exchange of cultural troupes is not enough. We have to resolve problems through talks..not an option to brush problems under the carpet…have to address them (problems),” he said.

Stressing the importance of resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue process and peaceful resolution of all issues, he said that they discussed the issue of “disturbances on the Line of Control” – while referring to over 200 ceasefire violations that year.

Shehbaz is widely credited for his administrative skills and as chief minister of Punjab, he planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in Lahore.

Shehbaz entered the national political scene when he became the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after Nawaz was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations. Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau, including under Imran Khan’s premiership, but Shehbaz has not been found guilty on any charges.

His can-do approach and trying to bring Pakistan’s economy “back on track” will be key to his stint as the Pakistan PM in the next year or so.

Possible diplomatic opening

Imran Khan had made it politically difficult for New Delhi to open channels, as he had personally attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-RSS combine.

In September ‘2018, at the very beginning of his term, Khan had expressed his disappointment with India for cancelling the foreign minister level talks on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, after agreeing to it. At that time, he had said, targeting PM Modi: “All my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”

After the revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, his tone became more strident, calling BJP-RSS “Nazi” and using strong language against the Indian government.

But in the last year-and-a-half, the Pakistan Army opened back channels with India and they agreed to adhere to the ceasefire along the Line of Control. With the ceasefire holding for one year since February 2021, Shehbaz Sharif will find a willing partner in the Army to move forward on the ties.

It will be crucial to see how Shehbaz will act as trade ties with India could bring in funds, even as he navigates the political and diplomatic minefield for repairing ties with India.

From New Delhi’s perspective, the power shift signals the possibility of an improvement of ties, amid potential challenges and difficulties.

Unlike Khan, the Sharifs will find it easier to do business with India, be in a better relationship with the US and the West, as well as engaging with China more proactively. Khan was extremely hostile towards the US under the Biden administration — he never got a call from President Joe Biden. In contrast, Shehbaz said in an interview last week that good relations with the US were critical for Pakistan for better or for worse.

Shehbaz, as chief minister of Punjab, worked closely on Beijing-funded projects. According to Pakistan media, the outgoing Chinese consul general wrote to Shehbaz last year praising his “Punjab Speed” execution of projects under the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.

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First published on: 10-04-2022 at 04:14:23 am
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