Restoring political stability in Pakistan is crucial for regional prosperity

Published : Tuesday, 12 April, 2022 at 12:00 AM

Pakistan, one of the two nuclear-armed countries of South Asia, is going through a serious political turmoil right now. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan lost a crucial trust vote in the National Assembly past midnight on Saturday, becoming the first premier in the country’s history to be removed through a no-confidence motion. Historically, Pakistan has been very volatile in terms of political stability along with its hostile relationship with its South Asian neighbor India. But to maintain regional stability in South Asia, it is very important that Pakistan strongly participate in the process. Hence, it requires political stability to prevail in Pakistan.

Pakistan, in its 75 years of independence, never went through a period of complete political peace. While there have been military coups, no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.The country has been going through turmoil again as Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a parliamentary no-confidence motion by the opposition.

When Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party rose to power in 2018, he promised a new Pakistan, assuring his supporters to fight corruption, strengthen the crippling economy and pursue an independent foreign policy. But, critics say, he failed to keep his promises and the opposition gained momentum to bring down his government.Taking advantage of the situation, the opposition, led by the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, got together and filed a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan in the National Assembly on March 8.

The vote, scheduled for April 3, was dismissed by the deputy speaker, on the day of the session, who said it was in violation of the constitution and was brought forward at the behest of foreign powers. Soon after the ruling, Prime Minister Khan advised President Arif Alvi to dissolve the National Assembly and called for new elections. Hence, the Cabinet stood dissolved, but Khan was asked to continue as the caretaker premier.

But the opposition petitioned the Supreme Court against the ruling, saying it was unconstitutional. After hearing arguments from both sides for five days, the top court on April 7 evening set aside the deputy speaker’s ruling, restored the assembly and called for holding the vote of no-confidence by Saturday morning. Pakistan’s parliament voted out Prime Minister Imran Khan in a no-confidence motion late Saturday, covering a month-long political turmoil that gripped the nation of 220 million.

Pakistan’s serious political crisis may be lessening, but the future of Islamabad’s fragile relationship with Washington remains vague after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan leveled serious allegations against the United States, making it a central part of the crisis. Khan accused the US of producing a conspiracy to overthrow him. Khan argued that the no-confidence motion earlier was discredited because it was tied to a US plot and violated Article 5 of Pakistan’s constitution, which emphasizes loyalty to the state.The US has directly rejected Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s latest allegations of a foreign conspiracy plotted in Washington to overthrow his government with the help of the Opposition parties, saying there is absolutely no truth to these claims.

US-Pakistan relations were unsettled before this political crisis. Both countries were deepening relations with the other’s top rival, Washington with New Delhi and Islamabad with Beijing, for some time. With US-China competition figuring so prominently in Washington’s foreign-policy calculations, there’s only so far it can go in pursuing a partnership with Beijing’s closet ally.

The broader political crisis, however, can be traced to the 2018 election that brought Khan to power. Traditionally, the military is the most significant institution in Pakistan and it has often intervened to overthrow elected leaders that got in its way. Khan’s rise is complicated from military influence over politics and the incumbent prime minister accused the military of a soft coup for manipulating the election in Khan’s favour.

More recently, the relationship between the military and Khan has worsened and that gave the political opposition an opening to act against him. Though it’s not known what role the military played in the Supreme Court’s ruling, experts note that the harshness of the court’s order suggests the military’s influence. Khan’s public messaging as a strongman has partially been responsible for agitating the relationship with the US and by extension, his relationship with the Pakistani military, which wants to be closer to the US.

The political and economic situation set the stage for a challenge to Imran Khan. After running on a campaign that promised less corruption and more economic opportunity for the poor, Khan failed to deliver. Inflation was climbing, unemployment was soaring, and a billion-dollar program from the International Monetary Fund had not helped stabilize matters.

An international investigation into offshore money from last year, known as the Pandora Papers, showed that Khan’s inner circle had moved money abroad to avoid taxes, in contradiction with Khan’s policy. Khan presided over an anti-corruption witch hunt targeting opposition parties. Indeed, the opposition parties, many of them composed of dynastic leadership and families are corrupt and their attempt to oust Khan can be seen as a move to evade further scrutiny.

Truly speaking, Pakistan’s standing on Russia-Ukraine conflict, strong steps to support the establishment of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and strong affiliation with China etc. went against Imran Khan, who himself came into power with the support of Army. If Khan had a strong political base internally, he could have addressed domestic and international issues with more strength. But his glamor did not help him much to for a strong political base and Imran Khan entered high conflict bargains too early. Moreover, Khan made some late decisions. As he had the support of people, he should have dissolved the parliament much earlier to enter a new election. Whatever, the case is, Imran Khan is paying for his own wrong decisions to an extent.

Over the next few months, the Pakistani state’s focus will be internal, not external. India should expect no change in its relationship with Pakistan, one that has been tense but under control since the inking of a new Line of Control ceasefire agreement last year. The Taliban’s relationship with Islamabad may have experienced tensions in recent months but the Taliban still view Islamabad as an important friend and as their biggest diplomatic backer.

While prolonged political instability in Pakistan may raise some concerns for Beijing about the security of its investments in the country, it knows that whatever government next takes office will be keen to engage with China and seek badly needed economic assistance. This will give China leverage over Islamabad and could help Beijing negotiate new loans on highly favourable terms for itself.

The best hope, for Pakistan and its neighbours alike, is that the country quickly and smoothly completes a political transition, thereby reducing the risks of instability, bringing back an impression of normalcy and enabling the state to allocate the necessary policy scope to address critical economic and security challenges.

Pakistan had the second most possibilities of economic prosperity in South Asia. But due to political instability, there economy did not nourish much though remained functional. Bangladesh, once a part of Pakistan, passed them in terms of most of the economic parameters only within 50 years of its independence. Right now, Bangladesh is 45% richer than Pakistan. Political stability during the last decade has made Bangladesh to prosper to the greatest extent. Pakistan also needs to ensure political stability to ensure their progress and also to utilize their potential.

Moreover, democracy is being constantly hurt in Pakistan. Intervention of the army or judiciary or even foreign powers repeatedly to oust the government is not supportive to the concept of democracy. Such practice will prevent the progress of Pakistan and their leadership must understand that. Additionally, Pakistan is a nuclear power and political instability may cause serious damage as the risk of rise of terrorism remains high for the country.

We hope, Pakistan will find democratic solutions soon and will hold on to the democratic practices. If that happens, not only Pakistan will prosper but also the whole South Asian region will be benefitted. Hopefully, the new leadership of Pakistan will take the country to new heights in terms of stability and development.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela

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