Pakistan is Entering Another Phase of Turbulence
by Vladimir Terehov on 12 Apr 2022 1 Comment

News agencies report about the attempt to dismiss the Lower House of the Parliament of Pakistan, undertaken on April 3 by Prime Minister Imran Khan – an evidence of reaching a qualitatively new level of (another) aggravation of the situation in the country, which has been escalating over the past few weeks.


This happened despite the fact that the domestic political field of Pakistan is more or less constantly being in a state of varying degrees of turbulence. Modern Pakistan experiences almost a complete set of internal problems of the most diverse nature (common for almost all Asian countries of the “postcolonial period”).


Suffice it to mention the fierce confrontation between the two branches (Shiite and Sunni) of the dominant Muslim confession. The population of modern Pakistan is made up of different ethnic groups, each having its own history, which serves as a basis for separatist movements to emerge (for example, among the Baluchi). The internal political space is divided between several competing family clans. However, all these clans and the parties under their patronage seem to have united in the current process of attacking Imran Khan. At least, within the country’s Parliament.


In these conditions, the real guarantor of the integrity of Pakistan is the army and security services. In summer 2018 it was these forces who were behind the seemingly democratic elections procedure and brought to victory the centrist party Movement for Justice (PTI) led by Imran Khan, a recognized cricket master who spent a significant part of his life among the London aristocracy. Apparently, the Pakistani high-ranking military officials considered PTI and its leader as some kind of “fresh blood” which was so badly needed by the country’s rather narrow political community, stuck in corruption and inter-clan squabbles, and unable to resolve the escalating problems. Both internal and external.


Secondly, the long-term confrontation with India became increasingly burdensome (let’s not forget the fact that both of these countries have nuclear weapons). Moreover, the severity of the associated burden on the state is due not only to the economic factor. There are certain suspicions that it was Indian security services who were behind the armed actions of Baluchistan separatists.


Six months before the 2018 elections and the new parliamentary coalition led by PTI coming to power, the Pakistani generals (through direct contact with their Indian colleagues) had launched an initiative with the ultimate goal to sharply reduce tensions in relationship with India. Further development of this initiative had to be assigned to some “fresh” civilian forces. The government led by Imran Khan, even without much success (which, of course, could only be achieved upon the mutual desire of both parties), does not seem to have worsened the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. And in the current circumstances this is a success.


Delhi shows natural interest in watching anything happening in Pakistan recently. Moreover, only a month earlier an extremely unpleasant incident had happened – an Indian missile fell in the territory of Pakistan, which had been launched, according to the Indian Defence Ministry, “accidentally due to technical malfunctions”. Fortunately, no one was injured and initial rather sharp reaction to this incident, demonstrated among other by Imran Khan, quickly faded away.


This is, again, well aligned with the general trend of the recent years, associated with the attempts of both countries to at least reduce the level of tension in bilateral relations. In its turn, this trend is undoubtedly narrowing the space for anti-Chinese and anti-Russian intrigues of Washington (and Brussels) in a region of extreme importance for the western nations. At a late-March rally, Imran Khan expressed positive attitude to the fact that India continued to purchase energy carriers in Russia, “despite the US pressure” (in connection with the Ukrainian crisis) and similar requests from the EU.


It bears repeating that the government led by Imran Khan has a similar opinion about the situation, despite the external pressure. “I haven’t bowed before anyone and will not let my nation bow either,” the Pakistani Prime Minister said in this regard.


The author would also like to mention the milestone meeting of Imran Khan with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, held in Moscow in late February. This meeting is well aligned with the general political course of recent years, aimed at improving bilateral relations, which used to be almost hostile during the Cold War (and especially during the Soviet operation in Afghanistan). This course is quite consistent with the process of rapprochement of the Russian Federation with China, Pakistan’s key ally and the number one geopolitical opponent of the United States.


In general, in a specially designated page of the accounting book of “friends and enemies of the United States,” the list of actions taken recently by the Pakistani Prime Minister, which in Washington should be considered as “anti-American,” apparently came to an end.


Among others, the most convincing seems a point of view, according to which, out of the whole set of “sins” in the face of the US, the trigger for launching the process of a radical solution to the “the Imran Khan problem” was his visit to Moscow mentioned above. Among other issues for discussion during this visit, an additional impetus was given for the construction project of the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, implemented with the participation of Russia.


Apparently, Washington has viewed as a blatant challenge the fact that this visit was held at the beginning of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, which was immediately followed by a host of anti-Russian sanctions. And at this tough period, the leader of one of the main Asian allies of the Cold War period, and now almost an ally of China, visits the “aggressor.” Moreover, they are going to develop cooperation in the field of energy. And all this while the rest of the “civilized world” ceased almost all business operations with the “aggressor,” and primarily in the energy sector. This is hard to swallow.


In this regard, it is unlikely that the words of Imran Khan about the plot being prepared against him with the support of external forces and even about the preparation of his assassination were just unsubstantiated emotions (of a “cornered politician”). However, since no documentary evidence has been revealed on this topic, the US, of course, denies everything and transparently hints at the poor performance of the security services of Pakistan, who “let down” their prime minister.


Generally speaking, a similar situation previously occurred in the Philippines, whose then new leader Rodrigo Duterte, who after replacing the former (completely pro-American) president in 2016, initially announced his intention to drastically change the country’s foreign policy course, “suddenly” faced a number of serious problems.


At the time of writing this article, the political crisis that broke out in Pakistan was in full swing.  It was called “constitutional” crisis, because during the confrontation (still peaceful), both warring parties referred to certain articles of the national constitution, as well as to their own interpretation of those articles. The fact that rather a heterogeneous opposition united, is an evidence that the leadership of the parliament “illegally” disrupted the voting procedure on the issue of expressing distrust to the acting government. Imran Khan’s opponents formed their own “government” headed by a representative of one of the clans mentioned above, Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz Sharif, who held the post of Prime Minister (in the period 2013-2017).


As reported, Imran Khan will continue to “temporarily” (for at least three months) act as the Prime Minister. The Supreme Court should take part in the developing conflict. Whether the early parliamentary elections, which Imran Khan insisted on in his appeal to the nation, will take place or not is still not clear.


As for the military circles, they made a statement about their non-involvement in this “completely political” (though no less dangerous) turmoil in Pakistan, which plays an extremely important role today. Still, some experts believe that the military are – as has always been the case in the past – directly involved in the conflict.


So this author will be watching with intense interest the further development of the political crisis in a de facto nuclear nation.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”. Courtesy 

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