Pakistan: Imran Khan to hold show of strength in Islamabad as no-trust vote looms

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Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has been on the edge since the Opposition submitted the no-confidence motion before the National Assembly Secretariat, alleging that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government was responsible for the economic crisis in the country.Pakistan: Imran Khan to hold show of strength in Islamabad as no-trust vote looms

Imran is our hero

File image of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan. AP

Ahead of the crucial no-trust vote, Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan will hold a major public rally in Islamabad with thousands of his supporters travelling to the capital from different cities in special trains arranged by the government on Sunday.

Pakistan has been on the edge since Opposition parties on March 8 submitted the no-confidence motion before the National Assembly Secretariat, alleging that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Khan was responsible for the economic crisis and the spiralling inflation in the country.

Two special trains have been mobilised by the national transporter, Pakistan Railways, from Lahore and Islamabad at the request of the government to transport its workers.

Thousands of supporters of the prime minister are coming in trains, public vehicles and private cars to attend the “historic” rally of the ruling party.

The PTI caravan coming from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and other cities will reach the Parade Ground here to attend the rally under the theme of ‘Amr Bil Maroof’ (enjoin the good).

“The public meeting will be the largest in the history of the country and have a great impact,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood told reporters on Saturday.

The call for the rally was given by prime minister Khan as he has been trying to present his fight against a “group of crooked opposition leaders”, but still many believe that gathering could be his swan song due to the odds of no-confidence heavily decked against him.

Separately, an equally-charged political event will be held in Islamabad on Monday by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of the Opposition parties.

The PDM comprising the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) retaliated to hold their power show a day later that will coincide with the National Assembly session when the no-confidence motion is set to be formally moved in the house.

The JUI-F supporters have started moving under the supervision of local leaders, JUI-F spokesperson Aslam Ghauri told the media.

They are mainly coming from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan where the party has a lot of support. Some of them have already reached Hakla Interchange near Islamabad.

Another big protest march led by PML-N vice presidents Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Hamza Shehbaz, who is the son of Shehbaz Sharif, started from Lahore on Saturday. Travelling on the historic GT Road, they are scheduled to reach Islamabad on Monday to attend the opposition rally.

“It (the march) will be the last nail in the coffin of the PTI government,” Maryam told her supporters.

Interior minister Sheikh Rashid warned that the Opposition would not be allowed to block any main roads for political activities as it was against the direction of the Supreme Court.

“We have deployed paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps along the Srinagar Highway and any effort to block it will be resisted,” he said.

Rashid said that more than 15,000 security personnel would be deployed for keeping law and order and also warned to call the Army in case of any untoward incident.

The political temperature has been slowly reaching a boiling point in the wake of the no-trust move by the Opposition on March 8. The make and break point for prime minister Khan is likely to be reached by the end of next week.

The Opposition parties are confident that they can get the support of 172 members in the house of 342 to dislodge the government, while the government claims that it enjoys the required support in the house to foil the attempt.

Khan came to power in 2018 with promises to create a ‘Naya Pakistan’ but miserably failed to address the basic problem of keeping the prices of commodities in control, giving air to the sails of opposition ships to make war on his government.

With major allies of Khan looking the other way and about two dozen PTI members of parliament revolting against him, and the powerful establishment not providing a helping hand, he is less likely to get the support of the much-coveted 172 lawmakers.

Khan, 69, is heading a coalition government and he can be removed if some of the partners decide to switch sides.

He is facing a rebellion by his about two dozen lawmakers and allied parties which are also reluctant to pledge support to him.

Both Khan and his ministers are trying to give the impression that everything was fine and he would come out victorious out of the trial.

The PTI has 155 members in the 342-member National Assembly and needs at least 172 lawmakers on its side to remain in the government.

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Imran Khan’s deal with the Opposition to help him calm waves of political storm in Pakistan

In a carefully worked out deal aimed at assuaging both the riled-up opposition and the current government, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan may announce early elections after the Budget is presented, possibly ahead of time too, sources told CNN-News18.

Pakistan is in political turmoil as it faces a recurring economic crisis, and Khan’s government is relying on the International Monetary Fund to release the next tranche of a $6 billion rescue package to shore up the country’s dwindling foreign currency reserves. Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team, took power in 2018 after the country’s two mainstream parties’ leaders were discredited by corruption allegations.

According to political analysts, the country’s powerful military had supported Khan’s rise to power, but the generals have now grown dissatisfied with his leadership. Khan has denied receiving military support.

Khan, who is set to address a much-anticipated rally in Islamabad at 4 PM on Sunday, ‘has to be polite towards all institutions’ for a win-win situation for the government and opposition, said the sources. CNN-News!8 had earlier reported that the leader might even resign at the public gathering. However, Khan has repeatedly denied any such move, reiterating that he would stay in his post.

The rally comes ahead of a no-confidence motion against Khan, to be tabled on Monday, after which seven days of

debate should take place before an actual vote. More than 20 lawmakers have deserted Khan in recent weeks,

leaving him short of the 172 needed for a simple majority in parliament. Political analysts predict that Khan’s

supporters will use the weekend to persuade some of the defectors to rejoin the party.

On the government seeking clarification from the Supreme Court on a constitutional point (interpretation of

Article 63-A) over disqualification of dissident lawmakers who have threatened to vote against Khan during the

no-trust motion, the apex court will also have to reject the presidential reference under the agreement, the

sources said.

Khan will have ask the Chief Minister of Punjab Usman Ahmad Khan Buzdar to resign ‘immediately’, the sources

said. Buzdar is said to be unpopular within Khan’s party, the opposition and the military, signalling a lack of

political consensus with the PM at the forefront.

PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gillani may also become the Chairman of the Upper House or Senate of Pakistan under

the deal, the sources said.

The government will also have to assure the opposition of a free and fair decision in the PTI foreign funding case,

the sources said. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has been accused of withholding critical information from

Pakistan’s Election Commission regarding a foreign funding case.

The documents handed over to the Election Commission of Pakistan in the PTI foreign funding case by the State

Bank of Pakistan show that information about transactions worth more than $ 2 million from 14 different foreign

countries, as well as hundreds of millions of rupees in local transactions into the party’s bank accounts, was not

provided to the ECP authorities.

Meanwhile, in another point under the agreement, the government has to lay off speeding up any army postings

or appointments, the sources said, adding that the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League (N), and Jamiat

Ulema-e-Islam have agreed upon all the mentioned deals and would ‘celebrate their victory with the

announcement of early elections’.

Allies will also have to be neutral under the deal; they would not join the PTI or Opposition in NCM, sources said.

However, if Khan fails to agree to the points or disobeys them, there would be ‘chaos’ in the country, posing a

‘dangerous’ threat to the country’s stability, the sources added.

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Pakistan’s Imran Khan faces a political showdown — without the army for support

ISLAMABAD – It wasn’t long ago that many in Pakistan thought Imran Khan, the cricket star-turned-politician, might defy the odds to become the only prime minister in recent history to actually serve a full term.

After all, he was relatively popular. And more importantly, he enjoyed the firm support of the military, which many say helped catapult him to power in 2018.

But Khan’s fortunes have rapidly shifted. The military appears to have withdrawn support and defections within the ranks of Khan’s own party, known as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, mean that a no-confidence move in parliament planned to get underway on Monday, looks like it has a good chance to succeed.The military backs away from Khan

Khan’s shaky grasp on power has made for more than the usual amount of messy politics in Pakistan. The current crisis erupted after the military appeared to suddenly back away from him, signaling to the opposition that it was open season on the prime minister.

“The opposition now has free rein to go after Khan,” says Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Even Khan’s own coalition partners are making use of the chaos to try to leverage better deals.

Meanwhile, violence is feared because opposition parties are planning their own mass rally to coincide with Monday’s start of debate on the no confidence motion. In anticipation of trouble, security forces have moved razor wire across major roads. Analysts fear that if the chaos escalates, the military could step in to restore order, as it has done so many times before in Pakistan’s 75-year history.

The turmoil comes as Pakistan negotiates with the International Monetary Fund to release a desperately needed next tranche of a $6 billion bail out package.

“History tells us what happens when there are no resolutions,” said Najam Sethi, a journalist and editor of The Friday Times. If “the opposition and the government continue to slug it out,” Sethi said, “and you’re facing financial bankruptcy and now you have political bankruptcy,” he continued, “that’s when the military steps in directly.”

Pandemic-linked inflation is pushing up the price of food and fuel. And it’s expected to worsen as shortages of fertilizer for crops could cut wheat yields, just as global prices skyrocket amid the Russian invasion.

“Inflation has become unbearable. What can people do, except cry, or curse him?” mechanic Muhammad Zubair, 35, who lives in the capital, Islamabad, says of the prime minister.There are troubles with the Taliban next door

Khan’s troubles are also closely tied to events across the country’s western border. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August underscored his sympathy for the group, as he told an audience that the regime change meant that Afghans had “broken the shackles of slavery.” The remarks only served to fray already fraught relations with Washington Anadolu Agency / Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesPakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 24 this year, the same day that Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

Khan also seems to have infuriated some in the military with his foreign policy decisions, such as finding himself in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the very day the invasion of Ukraine began.

“The relationship started to see some cracks,” Afzal says.

For others who support Khan, he is seen as a straight-talker who has helped the poor through instituting health insurance schemes and cash payments. He is contrasted with many other Pakistani political leaders who are widely viewed as corrupt.

“He is not like thieves who are making money for themselves and their children. Imran Khan cares about the entire country,” Fazl-e-Wadood, a 28-year-old laborer with seven children in Islamabad, says, adding that his support for Khan is so strong that he would “even sacrifice my life” for the prime minister.

Kahn has attracted sympathy too from Pakistanis tired of their lawmakers jumping ship as political winds shift. It is so common that one newspaper editorial even dubbed Pakistan a “lotacracy” playing on the word “lota” – a vessel used by Pakistanis to wash themselves after using the toilet. The word can also be used as to mean a political turncoat.

Political instability, although not uncommon in Pakistan, is always cause for concern in the nuclear-armed nation of more than 220 million people, which has been ruled by generals for nearly half its history.

In the latest case of Khan, the military’s apparent abandonment of the prime minister is all the more stark, given that he’s widely seen as beholden to the army for his present position.

Ahead of the 2018 election, Amnesty International described a crackdown on media and analysts said was a campaign to beat down allies of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif himself was disqualified from politics in 2017, following a corruption scandal surrounding his family.

Essentially, the military “rigged the elections to bring Imran Khan to power,” says the journalist Sethi.

Khan’s PTI denies such claims, pointing to the party’s widespread popularity among the country’s conservative middle class.

But even after the polls, when Khan was unable to form a majority government, Sethi and others say the military nudged smaller parties into a supporting coalition. In fact, Khan’s government was so closely intertwined with the military that it was described by many as “hybrid rule,” says Zahid Hussain, an author and columnist for the English daily Dawn. “The military was part of the power arrangement which has worked for the last three and a half years.”

Khan is perceived by many as mismanaging the economy, as well as rule of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, where he appointed a political nobody as chief minister.

He was insulated by the army’s support. But then, Sethi and other analysts say, the military began distancing itself from Khan amid a series of perceived missteps.Sharif’s tirade “crossed of the Rubicon”

A turning point was a tirade by Sharif, the disqualified prime minister who remains one of Pakistan’s most popular political figures. He boldly called out the military by name — accusing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and the former former head of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, of engineering Khan’s rise to power.

“Who is responsible for the destructiveness of this incompetent government of Imran?” asked Sharif in a speech aired in October 2020.

Sethi describes Sharif’s speech as having “crossed the Rubicon,” in a country where officials and media only refer to the military’s role in politics indirectly and euphemistically, using code such as “the establishment,” “invisible hands,” and even “the department of agriculture.”

“Everybody, frankly, was shocked,” Sethi says of Sharif’s public shaming. “That’s when I think the military began to squirm.”

Tensions bubbled to the surface after reports emerged that Khan refused for weeks to sign off on a transfer for Hameed, the intelligence chief. The Brookings Institution’s Afzal says the move was “seen as [Khan] trying to assert his power as prime minister.”

“Many of us wondered at that point, what it would cost him,” she says. “It was a matter of embarrassment for the military.”

Because the military has long insisted that it doesn’t interfere in politics, just how it signaled its loss of faith in Khan isn’t clear, but the army was “forced to pull itself out of the fray,” says Hussain, the columnist and author.The military claims to be neutral

Khan himself alluded to the army’s reversal or “neutrality” as it is referred to in Pakistan, when the prime minister raged at a rally this week: “When there is a battle between good and evil, then God asks us not to be neutral. Only animals are neutral.”

The army’s stance appears to have ignited momentum for the three largest opposition parties to try to make a decisive move against Khan. They are already thought to have 162 votes in support of the no confidence motion, and the anti-Khan forces think they can peel away enough of his own lawmakers to reach the necessary 172.

About a dozen of Khan’s own lawmakers have already rebelled against him, and may vote with the opposition.

Khan’s allies have appealed to the Supreme Court, which is now considering whether a lawmaker can defy their own party’s instructions.

Right now, Khan is betting heavy on a rally set for Sunday. “I want the entire nation to come out,” he said in a special video message. Analysts say he hopes to attract enough people to intimidate wavering lawmakers and coalition allies.

“The government is trying to subvert the whole process by calling their supporters to march on Islamabad and to protest during the session, which means they are threatening the assembly,” says Hussain. “All that has created a very, very tricky situation.”

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