In April 2022 Imran Khan was forced out as Prime Minister of Pakistan. Khan leads a party called Tahrik i Insaaf (''Movement for Justice''). Imran Khan was PM for three years.
Why has he been sacked by the President of Pakistan? Khan came in promising to boost the economy and tackle corruption. He overpromised and underdelivered. He could not quite believe he had won at first. He founded his party in the 1990s. His first election was in the 1996. His party won not a single seat in the elections that year. Anyone else would have thrown in the towel. But Khan in the words of his autobiography chose to, ''fight like a cornered tiger".
Secret negotiations between Khan and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) in 2018-19 meant that the ISI decided to ensure that Tahrik-i-Insaaf won the election. The major parties (Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party) had let the country down again and again. Both were riven with corruption, incompetence, sloth, avarice, malice and deceitfulness. As the two major parties had abjectly and persistently failed to deliver, it was time to give a different party a chance. The ISI liked to let PML and PPP know that if they did not shape up, then ISI would appoint the Tahrik i Insaaf as the government. Pakistani elections are dubious expressions of popular will. Both major parties have participated in these charades and pretended that the results were genuine when it suited them.
Imran's perseverance was crowned with success in 2019. His party finally made a breakthrough. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) which founded Pakistan was voted out. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which had been in and out of office since the 1960s was also bested. There are a number of smaller regional parties. PML, PPP and Tahrik i Insaaf are the only three parties that can claim to be truly national.
Khan was swept to power on a wave of optimism. People wanted freshness. He is seen as the Mr Clean of Pakistan. But in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, that is a low bar to clear. In fairness to Khan, he has never even been accused of peculation. But defalcation was committed by his underlings.
At first Khan trod cautiously. His pussy footed approach was because he did not wish to irk the military-industrial complex that rules Pakistan. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the deep state.
The much -vaunted crackdown on kleptocracy and bribe taking never happened. The bureaucracy is notorious for its byzantine complexity, lassitude, and inefficiency. The courts are farcical and move at a snail's pace. The Police Force has a richly deserved reputation for insensate brutality, crookedness, and imbecility. They say if you are a total failure at school and can secure no other employment, you can always join the police. If you report a crime to the police, they will only investigate if you first cross their palm with silver. It has been impossible for Imran Khan to defeat corruption because it is so embedded in the body politic.
To be fair, not all Pakistani police officers are bent. There are some brave and honourable ones. But dutiful officers are often frustrated by their colleagues who are in the pay of criminal syndicates. Crime families run much of Pakistan's badlands along the frontier with Afghanistan. It is the Wild East out there. Trading drugs is a death penalty offence in Pakistan, yet the country is a major entrepot for heroin.
Not all civil servants are idlers or bribe takers. But the good ones have their work undone by the bad ones.
Some generals really are apolitical and want to see civilian control of the military. However, those who want to be behind the scenes, military dictators hold sway.
Pakistan's dysfunctionality makes it all but ungovernable. It would take a man of exceptional nous, guile, capernosity, valour, wisdom, charisma and work ethic to make the country manageable. These are qualities in which Khan was largely lacking.
Khan's pledge to improve the Economic Corridor fell flat. China's roads, railways, ports and airports hardly developed under him.
TAPI did not make any progress. That is Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan India Pipeline. Pakistan's dream of cheap energy did not materialise.
Admittedly, fate dealt Khan a bad hand. He was in the hot seat during the pandemic. There was lockdown. But the poor were not dying of coronavirus. They died of starvation. There was little to no financial support for journeymen who were not permitted to toil. Lockdown had to be lifted. Coronavirus cut a swathe through the population. Pakistan is a country with appalling public health. Insanitation and terrible pollution mean that respiratory health is woeful. The medical care system is often sclerotic. The best doctors emigrate.
There was some good news from Islamabad's point of view. NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan was welcomed in Pakistan. A potential foe was removed. Pakistan's allies took over Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban is quiescent. The terrorism situation in Pakistan is not as bad as it was a few years ago.
Relations with India were not too bad under Khan. His rhetoric on Jammu and Kashmir was averagely bellicose. But apart from such demagogic tub thumping, he did not do anything to provoke conflict. Perhaps that disappointed the war hawks.
Khan said that Hindu Pakistanis have rights and should not be mistreated. This played badly with the many anti-Hindu head bangers who are among his party's base. Remember that Khan comes from the most backward province. Most of his core supporters are reactionary puritans who are viciously anti-Shia. But in October 2021 there were some tussles. Imran Khan disagreed with the military top brass about appointments to some senior army posts. He also irritated the army by seeking to slim down the defence budget.
Imran Khan had wanted to hold a vote of confidence in the National Assembly. He might have won. But the president sent him packing.
Khan was born in 1956 in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan (now called the Khyber Pukhtukhwa) into an upper class family. At 6'2'' people used to say he was the tallest man in Pakistan. That is not true but he stood head and shoulders over 99% of men in Pakistani. As a rule, Pakistanis are short. He had a first class education at Aitchison College, Lahore a school in the English Midlands and lastly Oxford University. This at a time when the great majority of Pakistanis were illiterate. He was an outstanding cricketer. He played for Pakistan from the 1970s. He was a playboy in London and had numerous white girlfriends. He captained Pakistan to World Cup triumph in 1992. Cricket is the most important thing in Pakistan after Islam.
With Imran's exit, Shehbaz Sharif has been appointed Prime Minister. He belongs to PML and heads a coalition. His elder brother Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister on and off during a span of 30 years. Nawaz Sharif has been seeking medical treatment in London for 3 years. He has used London as a bolthole before back in 2007. He owns very extensive property in the United Kingdom.
Many say that the ostensible reason for his residence in the United Kingdom is bogus. The king of corruption is in the UK because he is a fugitive from justice. Now that his brother is PM, Nawaz Sharif might feel he can safely go home. Shehbaz Sharif might pack the court with pliant judges. Nawaz Sharif has not only been the dominant figure in Pakistani politics for over three decades: he is also one of the richest men in the country. Nawaz Sharif and the PML had been the ISI's pet party since the 1980s. But the ISI did let PPP have a go at governing occasionally especially when the PML's theft and idiocy became too much even for the ISI. When the PPP was genuinely popular it suited the ISI to let the PPP govern briefly. Even Pakistan has a tiny bit of democracy.
Nawaz Sharif was notorious for taking bribes and abusing power. He terrorised his opponents. He bullied the judiciary. He committed numerous terrorist acts against India. It is a cruel irony that his name means 'kind honour.'
Despite the PML courting the Islamist vote it is not as extreme as Jamaat-e-Islami. Nawaz Sharif watches films and listens to music that many would consider unIslamic. He is also a fulsome supporter of China despite Beijing's vicious oppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
The Sharif family is very much Saudi aligned. PML is anti-Shia whereas the PPP is led by a Shia family (the Bhuttos) though most PPP voters are Sunnis. The leader of the PPP is Bilal Bhutto Zardari. He is the 4th generation of his family to be in politics. He is the 4th dynast to lead the party. His mother and grandfather were slain while leading the party. Oxford-educated Bilal was known as 'Bill' by his British friends. Bhutto-Zardari is unwed at 33. That is a very low age to be unmarried in Pakistan.
They say that behind the scenes, the ISI adjudicates between the outside players who have a voice in Pakistan. These are Saudi Arabia and China. The USA no longer matters. Washington DC does not care about Pak anymore. The US is out of Afghanistan, so mollifying Pakistan is over.
Trump ended US military aid to Pakistan. Biden has not renewed it. Uncle Sam accepts that Pakistan is entirely in the Chinese orbit. For the United States it is far more important to develop a cordial relationship with India. They want to build up India to help India withstand China. The US perceives India its strategic partner in the region. The Americans have abandoned hope of having a decent relationship with Pakistan. The idea that they could trust Pakistan has been tested to destruction and beyond. Pak played a double game through the 20 years of NATO's campaign in Afghanistan.
PML will be in office for several years. Nawaz Sharif will make a miraculous recovery and return to Pakistan. Tahrik i Insaaf will lose heavily at the polls. No significant progress will be made in battling the problems that have bedevilled the Islamic Republic for decades. These are defalcation, lackadaisicalness, terrorism, conflict with India, drug dealing, a population explosion, Karachi being the largest city in the world without an underground railway system, Pakistan's air quality being among the worst in the world, the gross abuse of human rights and the fact that the ISI rules the roost. The current predicament suits the military-security complex. They see no reason to change the situation. But with the country's population rising fast and the economy not keeping pace, how long can the country creak along? How long before a civil war or a revolution? Pak has often been closed to being a failed state. But this is a failed state with nukes.
If the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran becomes a hot war then Pakistan could weigh in on the side of Riyadh. That really is scary.