Imran Khan: The World Cup-winning cricket captain ousted as Pakistan PM
Imran Khan is fighting for political survival after he lost a no-confidence motion in the Pakistan parliament, bringing an end to his rule as prime minister.
A united opposition had moved the no-trust motion against Mr Khan’s government and held his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), responsible for burgeoning inflation.
Mr Khan was ousted on 9 April after a week of political drama. He had initially tried to sidestep the vote by dissolving parliament and calling for early elections, but the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional and ordered the vote to go ahead.
The motion came after the PTI government’s largest and main political ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) quit the coalition and joined the opposition last month.
Mr Khan has become the country’s first prime minister to be removed by a no-confidence vote in the Pakistan National Assembly, parliament’s lower house.
Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz also faced a vote of no confidence in 1989 and 2006 respectively, but both emerged victorious.
Mr Khan, who came to power in the 2018 general elections, won 115 seats in the 342 -member National Assembly.
He had allied with the MQM and other smaller parties to form the government. A simple majority of 172 seats is required in the Pakistan National Assembly to form the government.
Mr Khan was born in Lahore on 5 October 1952 to affluent civil engineer Ikramullah Khan Niazi and his wife Shaukat Khanum.
He attended Aitchison College in Worcester before Keble College, Oxford.
Celebrated as Pakistan’s most illustrious cricketer, Mr Khan has led the national side to its only World Cup win in 1992.
He made his cricket debut for the country at the age of 18 in 1971 and subsequently led the national team between 1982 and 1992.
In his career as an all-rounder, Mr Khan has made 3,807 runs and 362 wickets.
He was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2010.
After his sports career ended, Mr Khan shifted gears to philanthropy and subsequently politics.
In 1991, he opened Pakistan’s first dedicated cancer hospital, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre in memory of his mother.
His trust, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, has also been named after his mother.
His philanthropic efforts promoted immunisation programmes in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
In 1996, he founded the PTI, but struggled to convert his popularity into electoral gains until 2013.
Between 1999 and 2008, he continued to remain in the limelight through his persistent criticism of General Pervez Musharraf during the period of military rule.
In the 2002 elections, he was the only candidate from his party to win a seat. However, he resigned from his seat of Mianwali, halfway through parliament’s tenure, according to a report in the Dawn.
In 2008, his party boycotted the elections after former president Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency and dismissed a group of senior judges who had refused to follow his command.
Mr Khan had justified his decision to boycott the polls, claiming that they were not free and fair.
In 2013, his party gained electoral prominence after it finished third in the national elections, narrowly missing out on becoming the second largest party.
But the party succeeded in winning the second largest number of votes, according to a report in The Tribune.
In the following years, Mr Khan played an important role in calling for a criminal investigation into then three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif after the Panama Papers leak in 2015 revealed corrupt practices linked to his family’s ownership of upscale London flats.
In 2018, as he won the national elections riding on a wave of anti-corruption, Mr Khan promised a “New Pakistan”.
Observers believe that economic mismanagement has been the most important factor in making his administration unpopular.
“Imran Khan’s government could not deliver on the tall promises it made to the electorate. The economic mismanagement under his rule was perhaps the most important factor that made his government unpopular,” Raza Rumi, Director of the Park Centre for Independent Media, Ithaca College, told The Independent.
“In addition, his style of governance has been autocratic rendering the parliament ineffective. Media freedoms shrank, and human rights abuses continued,” he said.
Many believe that Mr Khan rose to power riding on the support of the Pakistani army, which purportedly holds considerable control over the political system in the country.
Interestingly, his descent has been aided by the army withdrawing its support in favour of a neutral stance.
“The army has been relatively quiet throughout this crisis, and that silence can be taken as a tacit endorsement of the opposition’s efforts to bring out the no confidence motion,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director, Asia Program at The Wilson Centre.
“In effect, the fact that the military hasn’t tied to stop the opposition suggests it no longer sees Khan as its favourite.”
He added that Mr Khan’s relations with the current army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has had “the broader military grown uncomfortable with him.”
Things came to a head last year when his differences with Mr Bajwa over a top appointment to the country’s intelligence agency ISI became a subject of public debate.
“The issues of governance and economic meltdown were compounded by his strained relationship with the powerful military since end 2021,” says Mr Rumi.
Ultimately, General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was appointed chief of ISI, though many believe that Mr Khan had wanted to retain General Faiz Hameed Chaudhry as the ISI director general.
With the odds stacked against him ahead of the no-trust vote, Mr Khan had refused to resign in a public address and promised to “play till the last ball.”
Meanwhile, analysts have said that the chances of political stability in Pakistan if the opposition comes to power is not guaranteed.
“The opposition is deeply divided, and so any new coalition that may emerge if Khan loses the no confidence vote will likely be weak and hobbled,” Mr Kugelman said last week, before Mr Khan lost the vote.
But the current opposition would be disadvantaged by early elections, he added.
“Because if it forms the next government, the public will redirect its ire about the economy from Khan and the PTI over to the new government,” he said.
According to Mr Rumi, it will be a big win for the democratic process in the country if the next election is “free and fair”.
“The army will continue to play a role in many policy areas but its real test would come in terms of creating a level playing field for all political players and only that can secure political stability in the longer term.”
Despite the immediate uncertainty, a military coup remains unlikely, according to Mr Kugelman.
“Pakistan’s army much prefers that the civilian leaders take the fall for public policy failures. For the army, the ideal position is to exert a strong role behind the scenes, while letting the civilians be the public face.”