By Darpan Singh: It’s been almost impossible for Pakistani politicians to become prime ministers without the military’s support. It’s been equally difficult for prime ministers to remain in office without developing a good relationship with, or being subservient to, the military. In any Islamabad versus Rawalpindi tussle, the latter has mostly won.
The military has had the upper hand in matters of how the country should be run, besides what the nuclear doctrine and foreign policy should be. In case of defiance, premiers have been disqualified, assassinated and hanged, and military dictators have overthrown democratically elected governments.
It was against this backdrop that Imran Khan, the cricket world cup-winning captain, became the prime minister in 2018. The plank was welfarism, anti-corruption and the country’s economic revival.
But Imran, who had a pin-up boy image before getting into philanthropy and then politics, was also widely seen to have been propped up by the military. But something had shifted in the process. A hybrid model replaced the old order. The prime minister appeared to be more in charge, and the generals continued to pull the strings, only less directly.
But the story didn’t have a happy ending. In April 2022, the charismatic 70-year-old was ousted in a vote of no-confidence brought by the country’s political opposition. In a way, it wasn’t surprising because no prime minister in Pakistan has been able to complete the full five-year term in office.
But there was also a shift in Imran’s ouster that had followed show-of-strength rallies by both camps. No bloodshed. No incarceration. No dictatorial dismissal. He became the first Pakistani prime minister to exit, with a facade of parliamentary procedures hanging overhead. But the military’s tacit hand in widespread defections and beyond was too glaring to miss.
But why did Imran Khan have to go? He had failed on the governance front, particularly in fixing the crumbling economy, went soft on the Taliban, whose fighters killed Pakistani soldiers, became anti-America, and moved closer to China, and openly sided with Russia as Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Imran challenged the military’s stand on crucial issues, including the selection of a new intelligence chief. In all this, the military didn’t see the Naya Pakistan that Imran Khan had promised to deliver.
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