Pakistan’s embattled prime minister overthrown in no-confidence vote

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s political opposition ousted the country’s embattled prime minister in a no-confidence vote early Sunday, which they won after several of Imran Khan’s allies and a key coalition party left him.

The united opposition, which spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious, will form the new government, with the leader of one of the largest parties, the Pakistani Muslim League, taking over as prime minister.

In anticipation of his loss, Khan, who has accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to unseat him, has urged his supporters to stage nationwide rallies on Sunday. Khan’s options are limited and should he see a large turnout supporting his support, he could try to keep the momentum of the street protests up to pressure Parliament to hold early elections.

Khan had previously attempted to circumvent the vote by dissolving parliament and calling snap elections, but a Supreme Court ruling ordered the vote to be held.

The vote comes amid cooling ties between Khan and a powerful military that many of his political opponents claim helped him rise to power in the 2018 general election. The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half of its 75 years, wielding considerable power over civilian populations from governments that fear a disgruntled army could overthrow them.

The opposition called for Khan’s ouster, who accuses economic mismanagement as inflation soars and the Pakistani rupee depreciates. The vote caps months of political unrest and a constitutional crisis that the Supreme Court has had to resolve.

In an impassioned speech on Friday, Khan reiterated his accusations that his opponents had colluded with the United States to overthrow him over his foreign policy decisions, which often appeared to favor China and Russia and oppose the US

Khan said Washington opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine and a devastating war began in the heart of Europe.

Ahead of the vote, his lawmakers turned to Parliament to express their outrage at a letter Khan recounted from a senior US official, whose name was not given, that informed senior Pakistani diplomats that Washington’s ties were deteriorating to Pakistan if Khan were deposed. Human Rights Secretary Shireen Mazari said the memo was named Khan and said if he were no longer in power “everything would be forgiven”.

She went on to ask, “Abandoned for what? What is our sin?”

The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Friday that “there is absolutely no truth to these claims.”

Nonetheless, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, particularly the youth who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star-turned-conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018. He said they must protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and oppose US dictates.

“You must come out to protect your own future. They are the ones who must protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. … That is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept imposed government.”

Khan’s allegations of US involvement should resonate with many in Pakistan, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at Washington’s Wilson Center.

“Khan’s conspiracy allegations will resonate in a country where there is a tendency to attribute the worst possible motives to US policy, particularly because there is a history of US interference in Pakistani politics,” Kugelman said.

Khan’s insistence on US involvement in attempts to overthrow him also exploits a deep-seated suspicion of US intentions by many in Pakistan, particularly after 9/11.

Washington has often berated Pakistan for doing too little against Islamist militants, even though thousands of Pakistanis have died at their hands and the army has lost more than 5,000 soldiers. Pakistan was attacked for helping Afghan Taliban insurgents and was also asked to bring them to the peace table.

The no-confidence vote in Khan puts some unlikely partners in power.

Among them is a radical religious party that runs numerous religious schools. Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, or Assembly of Clergy, teaches a deeply conservative Islam in its schools. Many of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s own indigenous violent Taliban graduated from the JUI schools.

The largest of the opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League – have been battered by allegations of widespread corruption.

Pakistan Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was found guilty of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers. This is a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s wealthiest are hiding their money and involving a global law firm based in Panama. Sharif was ousted from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The new prime minister is expected to be Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif after the new prime minister was voted on in parliament on Monday.

“This would be the first time in Pakistan’s history that a no-confidence vote manages to overthrow a prime minister — the fulfillment of a constitutional process that was far from guaranteed after Khan’s attempts to derail the vote.”

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