Pakistan’s crisis and Imran Khan’s future

Pervez Fateh on the factors leading to the rise and (potentially unredeemable) fall of the legendary cricketeer turned politician and Pakistani PM

The Second World War sealed the end of the colonial era; therefore, the British Empire left the Indian Subcontinent in August 1947, with border disputes. In many areas of the territories that became part of India, a strong industrial base was present, which led to the creation of an industrial and entrepreneurial class in the country. After independence, the Indian government strengthened democratic institutions and industrialisation by implementing land-reforms to demolish the feudal system. This provided a strong foundation to the democratic institutions and also blocked the way for the bureaucracy to interfere in politics.

The areas that became part of Pakistan were largely dependent on an agrarian economy, with large feudal lords and tribal chieftains holding agricultural lands. Industry was non-existent, except a textile mill and a cement plant. The big landholdings were given to these feudal lords by the British occupying government in an agreement to betray their nation, keep loyal to their government and to collect revenue from the citizens. At the time of independence, these feudal lords joined and controlled the Muslim League. The second major emerging power was the civil-military bureaucracy, which was organized by the British Empire to plunder the country’s resources, control the people and smoothly run the state system. The ruling elite of Pakistan appealed for aid and loans, and the country was stuck in the clutches of debt and permanently came under the grip of American imperialism and modern colonialism.

Soon after independence, on 22 August 1947, Dr Khan Sahib’s secular government in the North West Frontier Province was dismissed. When in 1951 the people’s dreams of freedom started to shatter, and left politics started to flourish, the state filed the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and arrested active leaders of the Communist Party including some army officers and imprisoned them for a long time. The Communist Party was banned in 1954 along with its mass front organisations. The country was run without a constitution until 1956.  

Scattered left activists founded the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957 by holding a nationwide convention in Dhaka. The NAP emerged as the country’s largest party, Pakistan’s first progressive democratic party, with roots in East and West Pakistan. Therefore, on the night of October 8-7, Pakistan’s first President (General) Sikandar Mirza suspended the country’s constitution, dissolved the assemblies and imposed the first formal martial law in the history of the country, and at that time Army Chief General Ayub Khan was appointed as the country’s martial law administrator. Later, during Ayub’s 10-year martial rule, the National Awami Party disintegrated and could not become a nationwide progressive democratic party in Pakistan again. Pakistan People’s Party was formed by Mr Bhutto, and some progressives also joined his party, but it too could not be freed from the clutches of feudal lords and tribal chiefs and the country remained a place of military dictatorship internally and American imperialism externally.

Imran Khan led the Pakistan cricket team in 1992 during the World Cup. He also started a fundraising campaign for the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in 1994, which led to his countrywide popularity. He established Tehreek-e-Insaf in April 1996, but he could not win a single seat in the 1997 elections. He participated heavily in the 2002 elections, but his party managed to win only one seat out of 272. Then he changed strategy and supported General Musharraf in the referendum, while all other mainstream parties openly opposed the referendum and classed it as a fraud. The changing circumstances strengthened his relationship with the establishment. That was a turning point and powerful feudal lords and the urban elite class started to join his party. The possible reason of establishment support was the Charter of Democracy between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Imran Khan won 30 seats of the National Assembly in May 2013 elections and also formed a provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A year after, he led a rally to Islamabad calling the 2013 elections rigged and demanding the resignation of the prime minister. This was the period when the US government was angry with Pakistan over the growing economic cooperation between Pakistan and China, particularly building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPAC). The ongoing tussle between the government and the powerful establishment on the issue of the defence budget escalated to such an extent that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified on the basis of Iqama during the Panama case in the Supreme Court.

The establishment tried to bring Shehbaz Sharif of the PMLN into power, but he refused to stand against his brother. Therefore, Imran Khan’s party won the highest number of seats in the 2018 election and formed a coalition government. However, all other political parties called it an engineered election by the military establishment and accused it of rigging. After coming to power, Imran Khan restricted the ongoing progress on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Furthermore, the control of running the country remained in the hands of the powerful establishment.

Contrary to all the allegations of corruption against the opposition, there was no semblance of transparency even during Imran’s tenure. The volume of loans taken in the Imran Khan era were 76% of the loans of Pakistan’s 70-year history, but no major project or infrastructure could be established during his tenure. The country was ruled in such a fascist manner that any politician or journalist who raised his voice, would either be picked up, or anti-graft watchdog the National Accountability Bureau launched cases against them and put them in jail for a long time. Ultimately, he lost the support of coalition partners, which led to a no-confidence vote against his government on April 10, 2022.

During the vote of no-confidence, Imran Khan refused to leave power, flouting the country’s constitution, and waving a diplomatic cipher in a public meeting, revealing the US conspiracy against him, creating such a narrative that the intellect was stunned. In fact, this drama was staged to exploit the anti-American sentiments in the country, in view of his declining reputation. Furthermore, he began to use the religious card so frequently and skilfully as those claiming to be spiritual leaders.

Imran was arrested by the National Accountancy Bureau on May 9, 2023, in the Al-Qadir Trust case, which led to the countrywide demonstrations, and in many places damaged public and private property, especially military property. Now thousands of his violent fans have been arrested and proceedings under Military Act 1952 and the Official Secrets Act 1923 are likely. The Al-Qadir Trust case relates to a £190 million case settlement in 2019 against Pakistan’s property tycoon Malik Riaz during a money laundering investigation by Britain’s National Crimes Authority. According to British law, it was decided to give it to the Pakistani government. But Imran Khan adopted the illegal method to receive this money and instead of giving it to the Ministry of Finance, he indirectly gave it back to Malik Riaz through his advisor and took alternative urban land in his and his wife’s name.

The emerging political scenario of Pakistan indicates that Imran Khan’s political reputation has suffered tremendously, and his political future seems to be in doubt. He may go to jail for a long period or he has to live in exile as history repeats itself.

Pervez Fateh is coordinator of the South Asian People’s Forum UK, and is associated with the Awami Workers Party Pakistan, founded in 2012, after a series of mergers of Marxist parties in Pakistan. He actively participates in the working class movements and anti-imperialist campaigns in the UK. He is a regular columnist and writes articles in Urdu newspapers published in Pakistan and the UK.

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Photo: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaking at an event of the U.S. Institute of Peace, July 2019/ CC BY 2.0

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