Pakistan: Crisis erupts as Imran Khan ousted

Imran Khan (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Pakistan is the latest south Asian country to be thrown into political, social, and economic turmoil. After a desperate attempt to cling to power, the coalition of opposition parties – Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party  – were joined by the reactionary right-wing fundamentalist party, Jamiat-ulema-e-Islam, and carried a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, Imran Khan, with 174 votes out of the 342 seat parliament.

Khan’s government, headed by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI party), came to power in 2017, promising to end corruption and the rule of the two-party dynasty of the PML-N and PPP, which have ruled for decades. Khan’s government has failed to deliver on any of its promises and turned increasingly to Islamic fundamentalist forces to maintain power. He came to power with the backing of the military. The strength of the military in Pakistan means that for any government to remain in power needs the consent of the generals. Khan seems to have lost the backing of the military. He has presided over a desperate economic situation and embarked on a massive privatization programme.

Millions live in dire poverty enduring desperate economic and social deprivation. Neighboring Sri Lanka has now defaulted on its debt. Pakistan is also facing a massive debt crisis. It accounts for more than 80% of its GDP. Khan’s PTI government has been incapable of dealing with the consequences of this massive burden that is carried by the masses. The debt crisis is set to erupt in a series of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The reaction of the government, including the PTI, is to attack all public services and go on a neo-liberal offensive. The government has no answer for spiraling inflation and emerging food shortages and hunger. It is one of the factors behind Khan’s political demise.

Any hope of stability his government hoped for following the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan has clearly evaporated. Khan desperately attempted to cling to power. He dissolved parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence. This decision was then overturned by the Supreme Court. He then seemed to approach the military for support and planned the introduction of martial law and, in effect, to carry out a military coup. The military did not want to directly take over the government, at this stage, and refused to support Khan. Divisions between Khan and the military had been developing over recent attempts at a senior military appointment. The friction apparently came to a head after Khan attempted to remove the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa last weekend.

Khan has claimed that he is the victim of a “US conspiracy” to remove him. While it is unclear if this is true, Khan has clashed with US imperialism in the recent period, including over the Ukraine war, during which he has attacked the US and western imperialism.

Dogged by crisis

Khan’s government has been dogged by the debt crisis the country faced. He turned to China for a rescheduling of the debt agreement that it has with Pakistan and requested a change in the previously negotiated agreement. China refused, clearly wanting to demonstrate that the Chinese regime will decide the terms of any agreement. Khan then turned to the IMF for support and negotiations were underway but they are demanding harsh conditions which Khan’s government could not swallow. Cuts and more privatization that the IMF will impose will mean that the masses in Pakistan will pay an even worse price for this crisis.

These developments are a reflection of the instability that is developing as a consequence of the clash of interests between US imperialism and China in Asia. Pakistan’s military is also heavily dependent on China for military supplies and equipment.

The new government coalition is headed by Shahaz Sharif, brother of the jailed former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. This government of corrupt thieves, like Khan’s PTI regime, will be unable to resolve any of the deep crises facing Pakistan, economically, politically, or socially. The new government will rapidly become another government of crisis and turmoil.

The PTI had now called for protests to be held across the country. Though thousands are taking part in the protests, it has so far failed to mobilise the wider mass of the population. Khan would like to repeat the way key came to prominence – calling for protest against corruption (Khan is not generally seen by the masses as part of this corrupted dynastic elite). More discontent will emerge as the new government is likely to carry on with the attacks on the living standards that Khan had started. No party in Pakistan has a clear way forward to handle the crisis, as it heads towards a deep economic depression and possible debt default.

The need to build a new party for the working class and poor with a socialist programme to break with capitalism and feudalism in Pakistan, and link together with the workers of India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, is more urgent than ever. This is the only way out of the crisis that is engulfing these countries.


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April 2022