Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan is defiant and says he will not step down

Besieged by the opposition and abandoned by coalition partners, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is fighting for his political survival. In this September 2021 photo, Khan speaks in recorded video during the United Nations General Assembly.

Michael Nagel | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan remained defiant on Thursday, telling the nation he would not step down even if he faces a vote of no confidence in parliament and the country’s opposition says it has the numbers to oust him.

Besieged by the opposition and abandoned by coalition partners, Khan is struggling for political survival after the opposition called for a vote expected to take place on Sunday.

The opposition accuses him of economic mismanagement and claims that he is unsuitable for the post of prime minister. A parliamentary session set to debate his role was adjourned on Thursday within minutes of opening and without any explanation.

Lawmakers were reportedly due to debate and vote on Khan on Sunday – which may now be a formality as a number of defectors appear to have bought Khan’s political opponents the 172 votes in the 342-seat House to oust him.

Earlier on Thursday, the leader of a major opposition party, Bilawal Bhutto, called on Khan to resign. “You lost…You have only one option: resign,” Bhutto said.

But in a video address to the nation late Thursday, Khan struck a defiant tone.

“I will not resign,” said the former cricket star-turned-politician, adding, citing a cricket analogy, “I will fight to the last ball.”

In his speech, Khan lashed out at the United States, claiming Washington was conspiring with the Pakistani opposition against him and that America wanted “me personally to go away… and all would be forgiven.”

He claimed Washington has opposed his relentless criticism of the US war on terror – “and not a single Pakistani was involved in the 9/11 attacks” – as well as drone strikes in Pakistan and its refusal to consent to Pakistan being used for US missions deployed “over the horizon” against terrorist targets in today’s Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

As for Washington’s dismay at Khan’s visit to Russia on February 24, hours after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Khan said it underscores US attempts to control Pakistan’s foreign policy.

fight corruption

Khan came to power in 2018 and vowed to rid Pakistan of corruption, despite working with some of the country’s corrupt old guard. He called them “eligible” — necessary to win elections because their wealth and vast land holdings guaranteed votes across much of the country.

In politics, Khan has advocated a more conservative form of Islam. He has also kept company with radical clerics, including Maulana Tariq Jameel, who once said women in short skirts caused the Covid-19 epidemic.

Nonetheless, Khan is credited with building the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which are now over $18 billion. Remittances from Pakistanis living abroad totaled a whopping $29 billion in 2021 despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Khan’s reputation for fighting corruption has encouraged Pakistanis to send money home and he has also cracked down on the unofficial money transfer system known as hawala. However, the opposition blames him for high inflation and a weak Pakistani rupee.

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His handling of the coronavirus pandemic earned him international praise. Its implementation of so-called “smart” lockdowns, targeting heavily infected areas – rather than a nationwide shutdown – kept some of the country’s key industries like construction alive.

Khan’s often-voiced opposition to Washington’s “war on terror” and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan has earned him popularity at home.

He has sought to reach out to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, maintained close ties with China and Russia, and abstained in the UN Security Council vote condemning Russia for invading Ukraine. Nonetheless, Khan has denounced the war and this week called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for support. The two reportedly spoke for 40 minutes.

Madiha Afzal, a staffer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, blamed his confrontational style and a cooling in relations between him and the powerful military for Khan’s political woes, which were widely reported to have aided Khan’s 2018 election victory.

While the military says it is neutral in this situation, what many read in this political crisis is that the military has essentially withdrawn its support from Khan.

Madiha Afsal

Brookings Institution Fellow

Pakistan’s army has been the de facto ruler for more than half of the country’s 75-year history – even when governments have been democratically elected, the military retains considerable control behind the scenes, despite its claim to neutrality.

Speaking on a Brookings Institution podcast, Afzal said it is rare for a Pakistani political leader to retire. “This is part of a much larger, longer cycle that reflects Pakistan’s built-in political instability,” she said.

“In essence, opposition parties are not waiting for elections to take place, for the previous party to be voted out, or for prime ministers to be ousted from power,” Afzal added. “While the military says it is neutral in this situation, in this political crisis, many read it as saying the military has basically withdrawn its support from Khan.”

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/01/pakistans-embattled-pm-imran-khan-is-defiant-says-he-wont-resign.html Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan is defiant and says he will not step down

Chrissy Callahan

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