An Objective Assessment Of Pakistan’s Political Crisis
Everything has become so tense and unpredictable that some are concerned that the socio-political dynamics might eventually culminate in violence if the situation isn’t resolved through peaceful and political means as soon as possible. No responsible person in the country wants to see that happen yet everything seems to be careening towards that worst-case scenario while everyone seems powerless to stop it.
Pakistan can be described as the global pivot state, and not without reason. Its location at the crossroads of Central, South, and West Asia enables it to build upon the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, the flagship project of Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative) in order to function as the Zipper of Eurasia for integrating the supercontinent in the 21st century. Pakistan is also the fifth most populous country in the world, the only nuclear-armed Muslim state, and has world-class military-intelligence structures (known in Pakistani parlance as The Establishment) that have ensured its existence for decades despite its very difficult regional security environment. Events in this country are therefore of importance to everyone in the world, hence the need to objectively assess its escalating political crisis which shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan claims that his ouster was the result of a US-orchestrated regime change designed to punish him for his independent foreign policy, especially its Russian dimension, while the new authorities insist that it was a purely constitutional process and was thus entirely legal. His patriotic, pro-sovereignty, and national security narratives have appealed to so many people that they’ve since inspired some of the largest rallies in Pakistan’s history. The former premier also shattered the world record for hosting the largest Twitter Spaces session. Nevertheless, the new authorities claim that his support isn’t organic but the result of so-called “bots”. Newly inaugurated Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned his predecessor’s government as a “fascist regime”, which discredited millions of his own people and even his country’s foreign policy over the past four years.
The domestic political situation remains extremely tense, especially since former Prime Minister Khan declared that all his supporters across the country should soon descend onto the capital of Islamabad to put pressure on what he’s consistently described as their imported government. He also recently took to calling his nationwide movement a new freedom movement for Pakistan. These socio-political dynamics can undoubtedly be described as a revolution, one that’s taking the entire country by storm. His only demand is simple enough, and it’s to hold immediate, free, and fair elections so that the Pakistani people themselves can decide who they want to rule over them instead of being stuck with the highly unpopular opposition cabal that replaced the former Prime Minister. Be that as it is, the new authorities refuse to countenance this pragmatic de-escalation proposal.
Although the international community congratulated the newly inaugurated Prime Minister, including Russian President Vladimir Putin whose Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier extended credence to the now-ousted premier’s claims that the opposition’s no-confidence motion was a US-orchestrated regime change, suspicions remain about his foreign policy. He’s remained conspicuously silent about the deal that his predecessor revealed that he was negotiating with Russia to import agricultural and energy products at a whopping 30% discount, which fed into speculation that his new government might be reconsidering it under American pressure. That would arguably be against Pakistan’s national interests since this developing country would immensely benefit from such highly discounted commodities, especially in the midst of the interconnected agricultural and energy crises.
Speculation about the new authorities’ intentions aside, what’s known for a fact is that they hope to repair Pakistan’s troubled ties with the US, which America is also eager to do too as its ties with India become increasingly strained due to New Delhi’s refusal to publicly condemn Moscow for its ongoing special military operation in Ukraine. From the US’ perspective, the ideal scenario is to play India and Pakistan off against one another as they compete to become its privileged regional partner. The problem, however, is that this it’s politically difficult to repair Pakistani-American relations while this South Asian state remains embroiled in one of its worst crises ever that’s driven by former Prime Minister Khan’s claims that the US just overthrew him in order to install its compliant puppets in his place.
The Democrats risk losing support at home ahead of this fall’s midterm elections if their Republican rivals politicize their backing of a country that’s in the throes of nationwide protests against it. For that reason, they might proceed cautiously in terms of their planned rapprochement with Pakistan, and only if they speculatively receive something in return since it’s unrealistic to expect them to do this just for the sake of it. This means that Pakistan’s foreign policy prospects remain stymied by its internal problems connected to the ever-escalating political crisis related to former Prime Minister Khan’s scandalous removal from office. Domestic and international uncertainty are combining to create very unpredictable consequences for Pakistan since its entire stability has been rocked by recent events. Nobody can say for sure what might happen next.
Furthermore, the de facto revolution that its former premier is leading has also become one of the largest protest movements in the world. It’s inextricably linked to the Ukrainian Conflict since the ousted leader claims to have been removed partially as punishment for the excellent ties that he cultivated with Russia over his nearly four years in office. His claims have rallied millions of people behind him, including in parts of the country like Karachi where he was considered to have been very unpopular during his tenure and which traditionally only supports regional parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), not nationwide ones like former Prime Minister Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). This shows how popular his patriotic, pro-sovereignty, and national security narratives have become, which are also receiving more international attention nowadays too.
From an outsider’s perspective, the best-case scenario would be for the new authorities to comply with his demand to hold immediate, free, and fair elections as the only realistic pressure valve for de-escalating Pakistan’s political crisis. Since they’ve already ruled out that option, however, it’s unclear how this crisis will end, especially considering former Prime Minister Khan’s plans to lead a nationwide march onto Islamabad in the coming future. All of the new authorities’ efforts to regain control of the narrative and assert their legitimacy in the face of his compelling challenge have failed and actually proven to have been counterproductive. These include dehumanizing all of his supporters as so-called “bots” in a desperate effort to discredit them as well as incumbent Prime Minister Sharif’s description of his predecessor’s government as a so-called “fascist regime”, which discredited Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Everything has become so tense and unpredictable that some are concerned that the socio-political dynamics might eventually culminate in violence if the situation isn’t resolved through peaceful and political means as soon as possible. No responsible person in the country wants to see that happen yet everything seems to be careening towards that worst-case scenario while everyone seems powerless to stop it. The maximalist claims by both feuding political parties are irreconcilable and zero-sum. No compromise is possible under these circumstances, and there’ll be a sizeable segment of the population that’ll be unhappy in the event that one or the other side unilaterally concedes on its position towards the holding of immediate, free, and fair elections. In these tense circumstances, everyone must exercise discretion and responsibility in order to avoid inadvertently triggering a hot conflict.