Pakistan: Is Imran Khan on the way out?

Opposition parties in Pakistan have ramped up their anti-government protests to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan from power. The chances of their success depend on both domestic and international factors.

Almost all major political parties in Pakistan are demanding that Prime Minister Imran Khan step down, claiming he came to power through a rigged election in 2018.

For the past few months, the Pakistani Democratic Alliance (PDM), a coalition of 11 political parties, has been staging massive public rallies across the country to ramp up pressure on Khan’s government.

A Pakistani movement to topple the country's military-backed government gathered momentum on Sunday as tens of thousands of activists attended an opposition rally
The anti-government movement in Pakistan is gaining strength

The latest demonstration was held on Sunday in the eastern city of Lahore, a stronghold of former PM Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from power in 2017 on corruption charges. Sharif, who denies the graft allegations against him as politically motivated, is currently living in the UK undergoing medical treatment.

Opposition leaders announced Sunday they would march to the capital, Islamabad, with their supporters in January 2021 in a final attempt to overthrow Khan, who has been criticized for bad governance and economic mismanagement since he took power in 2018.

Prime Minister Khan has been criticized for bad governance and economic mismanagement

Can protests oust Khan?

Khan on Monday said he was not concerned about the opposition rallies. His aides believe the protests are not large enough to topple the government.

“They are free to march to Islamabad (in January), but I don’t think the opposition parties have the public support,” Mirza Shahzad Akbar, an advisor to the prime minister, told DW.

“There is a constitutional way to oust the premier; by a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Imran Khan is a democratically elected prime minister and the opposition will not be able to force him out through protests,” he added.

Some political analysts agree that protest rallies alone won’t be enough to oust Khan.

“The protest movement will put pressure on the government, and this is what the opposition is trying to do,” Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based political analyst, told DW.

Political analyst Qamar Cheema is of the view that although the opposition parties lack a majority in parliament to remove Khan from his post, “they can try to create political instability in the country,” he told DW.

Opposition leader Maryam Nawaz at a recent rally in Lahore
Opposition leader Maryam Nawaz is confronting the country’s powerful military

Pakistan’s political collision course

Opposition leaders have ruled out the possibility of negotiations with the government and the military, which they accuse of installing Khan as a “puppet regime.”

“The time for talks is over and we will organize a long march to Islamabad,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), told the Lahore rally participants on Sunday.

Khan’s aide, Akbar, told DW the government was ready for negotiations. “But we won’t be blackmailed into dropping corruption cases against the opposition leaders,” he stressed.

Experts say that a dialogue between the government and the opposition alliance is unavoidable.

“The military, the civilian government, and the opposition need to hold negotiations to determine the future political course of the country,” said analyst Zaidi.

Cheema believes the government is unlikely to hold direct talks with the opposition and will engage with the PDM through a “third party.”

“The military wants to have a consensus on key national security issues,” he said.

Confrontation with the military

Although, the main target of the opposition rallies is Premier Khan, the anti-government campaign has transformed into an anti-military movement in the past few months.

Experts say the civilian political class in Pakistan increasingly sees the military as an opponent not only in matters of political governance but also of the economy.

“The military is not only involved in politics, it also has huge stakes in Pakistan’s economic affairs. To protect these interests, it has captured the state. The situation is so grave that elected representatives have become totally powerless,” Arshad Mahmood, an Islamabad-based political analyst, told DW.

Former Prime Minister Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are the most vocal critics of the military in the opposition alliance.

Addressing the Lahore rally on Sunday via video link, Sharif lashed out at the military generals for their alleged interference in the political affairs of the country.

“They say, don’t take names? Tell me, what should we do? Is Imran Khan alone responsible for the predicament the country is in?” Sharif said in a reference to the military generals.

Some political observers also believe that the opposition is optimistic that a change in the US presidency in January, with Joe Biden replacing President Donald Trump, could benefit their cause.

Democrats, historically, have backed civilian supremacy in Pakistan. But regardless of who sits in the White House, the political situation in Pakistan is likely to remain volatile and unstable.


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