Pakistan: 30 days after Imran Khan’s ouster | The Express Tribune

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May 15, 2022


On April 10, 2022, a few minutes after midnight, Imran Khan was removed from his position of prime minister of Pakistan. Labelled as a constitutionally mandated vote of no-confidence, Pakistan watched in silence the carefully crafted coup against Khan in the fourth year of his governmental tenure.

The whats, whys and hows of the coup are unfolding a dramatic build-up of months of preparation by multiple players with a single point agenda: how to remove Imran Khan from power. For all those who have been chronicling the dismissals of almost all prime ministers of Pakistan since its creation in 1947, April 10, 2022 is the newest chapter in the long convoluted ugly history of Pakistan’s civilian-military uneven tug of war.

The 13-party coalition of ideologically different groups, ironically named Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), cobbled together to orchestrate a bloodless coup against Khan. Together, they have formed a government haloed in the noble intentions of a Khan-free, an inflation-free, and a revenge-free Pakistan—Khan will be made politically irrelevant, all will be well, no one will be harmed. The last thirty days have seen a very noisy collapsing of the fragile edifice of everything PDM had built its castle of cards on. Khan is more popular than ever. And things are awry on every level.

Contrary to the expectations of PDM, their spokespersons in media, aka most of the current prime time talk show hosts, and PDM’s major enablers—the ones who shall not be named—had apparently misestimated people’s reaction to the overthrow of a prime minister who despite the issues of bad governance and inflation hanging on its government’s head was still the same leader whom most Pakistanis considered financially incorruptible and fiercely committed to Pakistan’s wellbeing. One question echoed in Pakistan: what did Imran Khan do to deserve such a clinical ouster?

A series of events occurred with a dizzying velocity. The Supreme Court convening on a Sunday, April 3, 2022, to debate the legality of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s Deputy Speaker’s ruling to not have a vote of no-confidence; media’s almost united stance supporting the dismissal of Khan; superior judiciary’s silence on the issue of the blatant horse trading of PTI’s parliamentarians; PDM leadership’s solemn statements of upholding the Constitution of Pakistan while secure in the support of Pakistan’s Establishment, an entity that PDM parties had chanted for years—and true democrats still hold sacred—should not ought not must not interfere in the civilian prerogative of government formation. It was all cloaked in the supremacy of democracy. Pakistan watched in shock.

Another vote of no-confidence happened on April 9, 2022. PTI parliamentarians, after hours of speeches and counter-speeches, walked out of the National Assembly. The Islamabad High Court was opened close to midnight to hear a petition against PTI government’s apparent refusal to have the vote. Prison vans appeared like misplaced exclamation marks outside the National Assembly building. Speaker National Assembly resigned, handing over power to the PDM chosen speaker. A vote took place. Imran Khan was ousted. Without any allegation of misuse of power or financial corruption, Khan’s prime ministership ended in three years and seven months. Pakistan watched in horror.

Since April 10, Khan’s popularity, which was on a downward spiral because of the issues of bad economy and uncontrollable inflation haunting his government, has seen an unexpected turnaround. Even those who had avowed never to vote for Khan again have re-sworn their 2018 loyalty to Khan. Those who had never supported Khan have now rallied around him, convinced that despite his flaws as prime minister, the only way he should have been out of office was through the election after the completion of his five-year term in 2023. Those who have always condemned ousters of prime ministers and the dark reality that not one prime minister of Pakistan has been ‘allowed’ to finish their full term have also become team-Imran Khan.

Khan’s rallies in Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, Mianwali, Abbottabad and Jhelum are a categorical affirmation of people’s unchanged support for him. Protests, in which people who had never voted for Khan are standing side by side the loyal PTI voter, have erupted all over Pakistan, and among the Pakistani diaspora across the world. Khan’s first Twitter Space had the highest audience in Twitter Space’s brief existence. Khan’s two TV interviews and one podcast have set new records of viewership for a leader who was thought to have lost his appeal to young voters. Khan’s tweets, post-ouster, have more retweets and likes than Khan’s posts during his aborted premiership.

Imran Khan and his party and his supporters are fighting the new battle on the slogan of ‘Imported Hakumat Na-manzoor’, Khan’s consistent claim that his government was ousted on the orders of the US government, taking advantage of PDM’s relentless struggle to unseat him. The Urdu hashtag, a nightmarish chant for PDM, has become a Twitter phenomenon with one of the most popular hashtags with the highest numbers of tweets in the history of Twitter.

In the last thirty days, prices of essential food items—flour, ghee, chicken, sugar—increased. Pak Rupee further weakened against US dollar.

What has also transpired in Pakistan in the last one month is a flurry of actions taken against Khan, members of his party, supporters of his party, and media persons who condemn the machinations of Khan’s ouster. The list is long. And ugly. Is it a knee jerk reaction to the unexpected response of Pakistan rallying for Imran Khan, or is it a methodical game of vendetta unleashed in all its don’t-spare-anyone fury?

It started a few hours after Imran Khan’s ouster.

On April 10, Pakistan Today reported, “The house of Arslan Khalid, a PTI leader and former focal person to Imran Khan, in Lahore was raided shortly after the passage of the vote of no-confidence against the then-prime minister [Imran Khan] in the National Assembly at midnight.”

On April 13, UK-based journalist Ihtisham Ul Haq tweeted, “Media blackout of PTI Jalsa [in Peshawar]. What a shame.”

On April 13, Business Recorder reported, “Noor Alam Khan—a dissident PTI MNA along with a senator from PPP, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, and former deputy speaker NA Faisal Karim Kundi thrashed an elderly man mercilessly inside Marriott Hotel after he called him [Alam] ‘a turncoat’… the PTI dissident who is facing public backlash after he switched loyalty in the wake of the no-trust move against the former prime minister, Imran Khan.”

On April 13, tweeted a clip from a media talk of PML-N Deputy Secretary General Attaullah Tarar in which he is saying on live TV, “What happened at Marriott, if anyone chants anything against a member [of parliament], swears at him, or makes a sound, they will be punished very badly. I am stating this very clearly. Instructions have been given. We have tolerated too much; wherever we went in 2017, there were people with the chant of ‘Go Nawaz Go’ –in restaurants, airplanes, public places, parks. We never retaliated. Now, if any chant is raised against a member or [if they are] abused, what happened at Marriott will happen [to them].

On April 15, Digital Rights Monitor reported, “The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to stop harassing workers and activists belonging to PTI, local news outlets have reported. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, on April 14, presided over the hearing of a petition, filed by PTI, challenging the recent crackdown on party’s activists. The court was requested to bar the FIA from harassing PTI workers and violating the privacy of their families through illegal raids at their residences. The court ordered FIA Director General to ensure compliance with the standard operating procedures and that PTI workers are not ‘illegally harassed’.”

On April 21, Pakistan Today reported, “PTI has claimed that their MPA Asia Amjad, who went into coma on Wednesday, was ‘tortured’ by the police and PML-N ‘goons’ during the chaos that took place at the Punjab Assembly on April 16 when election for the chief minister was held. Amjad was rushed to a private hospital in Lahore earlier this week after her health deteriorated and was later moved to the Intensive Care Unit.”

On April 23, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, PML-N Vice President, tweeted what the PTI labelled a threat, “The way Imran [Khan] in the last four years has wreaked havoc in every sector of the country, damaged the country on every level, the stubbornness with which he broke the law and mocked the judiciary’s orders and the law, trampled them underfoot, and the way he is now getting ready to unleash fasad [tumult], the state will have to deal with him as a fitna [heretical uprising].”

On April 27, Dawn reported that during a workers’ convention in Lahore, PTI Chairperson Imran Khan “lambasted the purported media blackout of the PTI on mainstream TV channels and questioned why the defenders of press freedom were not standing up against it. He added: ‘During our stint in power, eighty percent of the programmes were against our government. So why is there a media blackout now?’”

On April 28, Daily Times reported, “The IHC sought comments from the FIA regarding [the] alleged harassing of journalist Arshad Sharif [one of the few journalists who have openly condemned the ouster of Imran Khan].”

On April 30, Dawn reported, “Members of flour dealers’ association in Dera Ismail Khan and truck drivers staged a protest demonstration against the stoppage of a large number of trucks carrying wheat flour from Punjab to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [the one province where Khan’s PTI is still in power] at the Dera Darya Khan Bridge.”

On May 1, Dawn reported, “The state-run Pakistan Television has suspended seventeen officials for failing to ensure ‘proper’ coverage of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s Lahore visit on the channel last week.”

On May 1, Dawn reported, “A case under blasphemy laws was registered in Faisalabad against PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and other top figures of the previous government, days after pilgrims converged on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s delegation and chanted slogans in Masjid-i-Nabwi. The FIR has been registered under Sections 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.”

On May 1, Samaa English reported, FIA has detained PTI MNA Sheikh Rashid Shafiq for chanting slogans inside Masjid-e-Nabwi. A case was registered against Shafiq, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, former Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed, and 150 others in Faisalabad’s Medina Town police station for desecrating the holy mosque. Sheikh Rasheed called the arrest ‘an act of vengeance’, adding that his nephew [Rashid] was not even present at the location where the incident took place.”

On May 2, Geo News reported, “As measured by the Consumer Price Index, inflation hit a two-year high of 13.37 percent in April 2022, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.”

On May 3, Daily Pakistan reported that PTI Chief [Imran Khan] said that “a plot had been hatched by his political opponents to launch a big character assassination campaign against him. He said it’s not the first time that political opponents planned such a character assassination campaign against statesmen. He recalled the organized character assassination campaigns against Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.”

On May 8, The News reported, “Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah warned the PTI people that if they tried to create unrest or chaos during their long march, he would not allow them to step out of their homes. Referring to a statement of Imran Khan, he said, ‘If he does not shun such an attitude and keeps inciting his supporters to disrespect members of other parties, he will have to face the same fate too’.”

On May 9, Global Village Space reported, “According to a press release issued by the FIA ‘All the Pakistani expatriates are advised to desist from spreading chaos in Pakistan. Their social media posts must not be offensive and seditious. They must read the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to make sure that their social media posts do not constitute any offence. If they commit any offence, the red notices through Interpol can be issued to arrest them, and their names can be put on the Exit Control List’.”

On May 9, Geo News reported, “Bloodbath at Pakistan Stock Exchange as benchmark index plunges over 1,400 points. BMA Capital Executive Director cited four reasons behind the bloodbath: the uncertainty on the economic front; negative rupee-dollar parity; lack of clarity regarding the IMF programme; Saudi trip; and rising interest rates.”

On May 10, Express Tribune reported, “Punjab plunged into another political impasse on Tuesday after Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema refused to step down from the office despite his removal order from the federal government, saying that the president had rejected the prime minister’s summary for his sacking. The provincial government deployed police contingents at all the entry and exit points of the Governor House to prevent Cheema from entering the office.”

On May 10, ARY News reported, “A bill to reverse the PTI government’s bill, providing overseas Pakistan with the right to vote, has been presented in the National Assembly on May 10.”

On May 10, The Nation reported, “Former prime minister and supremo of PML-N [Nawaz Sharif] on Tuesday summoned top party leaders [including the new PM Shehbaz Sharif] for a special meeting in London to discuss some ‘important issues.’ Apparently, the party is being run by younger Sharif in Pakistan, but it is no secret that the ultimate decision-making power rests with Nawaz Sharif.”

Thirty days. I call it a coup. They honour it as a constitutional move. I look at Pakistan today. Chaos lurks in the shadows. One month after Imran Khan’s ouster, is Pakistan a better, more peaceful, more inclusive, more democratic, more prosperous country?

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