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As Imran Khan’s fate hangs by a thread, Pakistan looks to an uncertain future


The Supreme Court, through its order, has definitely restored some confidence in its ability to protect the constitution in Pakistan, but also ushered in an era of turmoil that could have an impact beyond Pakistan’s borders.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will face a vote of no confidence on April 9. AFP

Pakistan’s Supreme Court eventually reinstated the National Assembly after declaring the Vice President’s ruling on the no-confidence motion unconstitutional. On April 3, when all eyes were on the National Assembly in Islamabad, where the vote on the motion presented by the united opposition was taking place, the government was surprised when Fawad Chaudhry, who had just taken office as minister of Justice, after Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) appointee Farogh Naseem resigned after his party split from Imran Khan, issued a statement alleging the motion of no confidence was brought at the request of powers to destabilize Pakistan. Vice President Qasim Suri, who was presiding over the session, immediately rejected the no-confidence resolution and prorogued parliament.

Members of the ruling party subsequently left parliament, but the stunned opposition continued to sit in the House and later passed the no-confidence motion against the government with 194 members backing it. Prime Minister Imran Khan, knowing of the plot, had not come to the National Assembly; he immediately went on the air, addressed the nation, and advised the president to disband the assembly.

President Arif Alvi followed suit and ordered elections within 90 days. The rapid developments forced the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take cognizance of it suo motu and the Supreme Court advised all concerned to appear before a bench of five members. The Pakistani military, the most powerful institution, has officially asserted that it has nothing to do with the political developments, although it was assumed that the no-confidence motion had its tacit support.

After a four-day hearing, during which there was speculation that the Supreme Court might allow the election to be held and authorize dissolution under the “doctrine of necessity”, it finally delivered the judgment which is probably based on advice given by GHQ in Rawalpindi. The judgment undoubtedly bolstered the constitutional process in Pakistan, where the judiciary has in the past justified military coups and other illegal actions by invoking the doctrine of necessity.

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The court ordered that the assembly be convened on Saturday April 9 to vote on a “motion of censure”. Barring a last-minute miracle, this will also mark the end of Imran Khan’s rule. This would, however, usher in a new wave of instability, as Imran Khan has largely succeeded in convincing the gullible masses that there is a US plot to overthrow his government for pursuing an independent foreign policy in pursuit of Pakistan’s national interests. This surge in popular support, which was clearly evident in the results of the second round of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) local body elections, was the reason Imran Khan wanted to dissolve the assembly and stand for election.

Imran Khan is likely to use the available time to further boost his popularity by addressing the nation and playing the victim card, while accusing the opposition of sacrificing national interests for monetary gain. Therefore, there are bound to be protests in the streets once Imran Khan’s government falls, especially in Punjab, KPK and Karachi, where the PTI has a large support base.

There is no doubt that some of the government schemes have endeared it to relatively less affluent sections of society, who have benefited from various social security schemes like the ‘Sehat Card’. Developments in the National Assembly are likely to be replicated in the Punjab Assembly, where again the PTI-dominated government is likely to give way to a PML(N)-dominated government.

However, the political dispensation that would succeed Imran’s regime is unlikely to be stable, as it includes various political groups with conflicting political interests, who came together (or came together) only to bring down Imran’s government. Khan. They may start bickering as soon as the goal is achieved. This could further complicate Pakistan’s already precarious economic situation, where foreign exchange reserves are rapidly depleting and the country urgently needs to negotiate with the IMF to shore up its reserves and adopt tough economic measures.

Unfortunately, a lame coalition government facing elections next year is extremely unlikely to do so. The resulting economic distress is likely to further weaken state institutions and the ability of the establishment to support its proxy, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The resulting chaos could further give a boost to radical forces in Pakistan like the TTP and IS. There are already clear signs of the resurgence of the TTP which has received a huge ideological boost with the recent developments in Afghanistan. There is also an ideological affinity between Imran Khan’s supporters and the radical right in Pakistan. Thus, we could see an upsurge in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, which could even spread across borders. On the other hand, internal chaos and financial disorder would reduce the ISI’s ability to launch cross-border operations.

The Supreme Court, by its order, has definitely restored some confidence in its ability to protect the constitution in Pakistan, but at the same time ushered in an era of turbulence that could have an impact beyond Pakistan’s borders.

The author is director of the India Foundation. The opinions expressed are personal.

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