Editorial: Chaos doesn’t augur well for democracy

Pakistan’s Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party last Thursday by ruling that his manoeuvre to dissolve parliament — to avoid a vote of no-confidence in his leadership — and call early elections was illegal.
Imran Khan
Imran Khan

It’s not clear what Khan’s next steps would be, but the opposition was ecstatic after the verdict. As per the court order, lawmakers were to convene at the National Assembly in Islamabad for a no-confidence motion.

With Khan’s removal from power, Pakistan witnesses the failure of yet another government to complete its full five-year term. It is democracy that has suffered the most in the ongoing political chaos in the country. After coming to power in 2018, Khan launched an array of projects to alleviate the suffering of Pakistan’s impoverished and marginalised communities. His multibillion-rupee initiative to issue health insurance cards immensely helped the poor, along with projects that provided shelter to the homeless, scholarships to impoverished students and quarterly financial aid to extremely poor sections of society, among other things.

Khan’s initiative to plant a billion trees in the country also earned laurels from international organisations. The government also managed the COVID pandemic relatively well. Nevertheless, skyrocketing inflation, rising unemployment and alleged gross incompetence stoked public discontent with the government. During his initial days in office, it was evident that Khan had the backing of the military, Pakistan’s most powerful institution. When some opposition parties began criticising the army, Khan was quick to defend the generals and maintained a healthy relationship with the men in uniform.

But relations between the prime minister and the military seem to have soured since then. There was a weeks-long standoff between Khan and the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, over the appointment of a new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) spy agency last year. And Khan’s positioning of himself as an “anti-West” leader and his increasingly strident criticism of the US and the EU did not go down well with the army, which views the West as key to Pakistan’s economic and security interests.

The US and the EU are among Pakistan’s largest economic partners, with huge influence over global financial institutions, whose assistance Islamabad desperately needs to get out of the economic mess it finds itself in. Furthermore, Pakistan has always tried to maintain a balance in its strategic relations, with the West on one side and China and Russia on the other. Khan disrupted this balance by veering heavily toward Beijing and Moscow, triggering concerns among the Pakistani military establishment over how his actions would affect Islamabad’s ties to Washington.

Khan claimed that his defiance of “US dictation” and following an “independent” foreign policy infuriated Washington and its EU allies and that’s why the US wants him gone.

With his rhetoric, Khan has been successful in promoting an anti-American and anti-West narrative while declaring his political opponents as stooges of foreign powers. This seems to have increased his popularity among conservative and right-wing voters, including those in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, which decides the fate of politicians during elections. Whatever has happened in the past few days will not benefit Pakistan’s democracy and democratic values.

This article was provided by Deutsche Welle

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