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Pakistan PM Imran Khan orders election; opposition accuses him of treason


Khan has circulated a memo which he insists provides proof that Washington conspired with Pakistan’s opposition to unseat him because America wants “me, personally, gone … and everything would be forgiven”.

A loss for Khan would have given his opponents the opportunity to form a new government and rule until elections, which had been scheduled to be held next year.

Pakistan’s opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, left, arrives to attend Sunday’s National Assembly before a no-confidence vote for Prime Minister Imran Khan was cancelled.

Pakistan’s opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, left, arrives to attend Sunday’s National Assembly before a no-confidence vote for Prime Minister Imran Khan was cancelled.Credit:AP

Residents of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab were set to vote on Sunday for a new chief minister. Khan’s choice faced a tough challenge and his opponents claimed they had enough votes to install their choice.

With 60 per cent of Pakistan’s 220 million people living in Punjab, it is considered the most powerful of the country’s four provinces. Also on Sunday the government announced the dismissal of the provincial governor, whose role is largely ceremonial and is chosen by the federal government. But it further deepened the political turmoil in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s main opposition parties, whose ideologies span the spectrum from left to right to radically religious, have been rallying for Khan’s ouster almost since he was elected in 2018.

Khan’s win was mired in controversy amid widespread accusations that Pakistan’s powerful army helped his Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (Justice) Party to victory.

Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert with the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, said the military’s involvement in the 2018 polls undermined Khan’s legitimacy from the outset.

“The movement against Imran Khan’s government is inseparable from his controversial rise to power in the 2018 election, which was manipulated by the army to push Khan over the line,” said Mir. “That really undermined the legitimacy of the electoral exercise and created the grounds for the current turmoil. ”

Pakistan’s military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-year history, overthrowing successive democratically elected governments. For the remainder of that time it has indirectly manipulated elected governments from the sidelines.

The opposition has also accused Khan of economic mismanagement, blaming him for rising prices and high inflation. Still, Khan’s government is credited with maintaining a foreign reserve account of $US18 billion and bringing in a record $US29 billion last year from overseas Pakistanis.

Khan’s anti-corruption reputation is credited with encouraging expatriate Pakistanis to send money home. His government has also received international praise for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis and implementing so-called “smart lockdowns” rather than countrywide shutdowns. As a result, several of Pakistan’s key industries, such as construction, have survived.

Khan’s leadership style has often been criticised as confrontational.

“Khan’s biggest failing has been his insistence on remaining a partisan leader to the bitter end,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Centre.

“He hasn’t been willing to extend a hand across the aisle to his rivals,” said Kugelman. “He’s remained stubborn and unwilling to make important compromises. As a result, he’s burned too many bridges at a moment when he badly needs all the help he can get.”

Khan’s insistence there is U.S. involvement in attempts to oust him exploits a deep-seated mistrust among many in Pakistan of U.S. intentions, particularly following 9/11, said Mir.

Washington has often berated Pakistan for doing too little to fight Islamic militants even as thousands of Pakistanis have died in militant attacks and the army has lost more than 5000 soldiers. Pakistan has been attacked for aiding Taliban insurgents while also being asked to bring them to the peace table.

“The fact that it has such easy traction in Pakistan speaks to some of the damage US foreign policy has done in the post 9/11 era in general and in Pakistan in particular,” said Mir. “There is a reservoir of anti-American sentiment in the country, which can be instrumentalised easily by politicians like Khan.“

AP



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