During the last few weeks, Pakistan’s opposition parties have failed twice in their efforts to destabilize Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. Their attempts were designed to seize upon the Pakistani masses’ increasing disillusionment with Khan’s government.
Having come to power with a promise of creating a “Naya Pakistan” (new Pakistan), Khan’s regime has yet to provide relief to the country’s poor. Instead, continuous inflation has been a growing problem for them. In July 2019, the annual inflation rate increased to 10.34 percent, the highest of the last six years. This has affected the prices of food, housing and utilities, clothing and footwear, and education as well as a host of other services. For the poor, some of which earn as little as Rs12,000 ($75) a month, it is difficult to survive.
The Rupee has lost its value by a third in the last year, which has equally impacted the business community. Khan’s failure to consider the business community’s concerns in designing its export/import policies has only compounded the country’s economic problems.
The Pakistani government is constrained in making any adjustments without a nod from the IMF that agreed to extend a loan of $6 billion over three years. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear people from different economic strata complaining about the burdens placed upon them since Khan assumed power last year. It could be argued that not all those complaining have a valid reason: the traders, for example, are reluctant to document their business activities as it would force them to pay more taxes. But the overall result, nevertheless, is one of disillusionment with the PTI government led by Khan.
Pakistan’s opposition parties expected to channel this disillusionment into anti-government rallies on July 25 while simultaneously securing control of the Parliament’s Upper House. However, in a surprising result, the opposition failed to secure enough votes to unseat the PTI’s Chairperson of the Senate and replace him with an opposition Senator.
These two failures clearly suggest that a constellation of interests support the cricketer-turned-politician Khan, who is likely to stay in power in the foreseeable future.
The military establishment, which is credited with bringing Khan’s PTI to power, continues to support the regime, guided by its assessment of the geopolitical and economic realities Pakistan faces.
The growing amity between India and the Gulf States that were historically “close” to Pakistan, increased international criticism of Pakistan’s counterterrorism policies, and the downward economic spiral carry the possibility of pushing Pakistan permanently into the category of pariah states. This could severely limit the military’s access to modern weapon technologies at a stage when India is acquiring weapons, for example, from Israel.
The military recognizes the need for stability and a pliable prime minister to wrest Pakistan out of what could be a perilous state with long-term implications, including the budget allocations for the military.
US Troops and Afghanistan
At the global front, the U.S. government, particularly President Donald J. Trump, is keen to pull troops out of Afghanistan. This withdrawal is unlikely to materialize without support and cooperation from the Pakistani government and their military that enjoys strong influence over Taliban leadership.
Since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. has incurred both human and resource costs. The U.S. combat operations (including related regional support activities), was estimated at a total of $756 billion since 2001 as of March 2019, with approximately $45 billion requested for each of 2018 and 2019. These amounts do not include the money spent on aid in Afghanistan’s civilian sector. Keen to demonstrate that he has extricated the U.S. from this endless expenditure and to use it for his election campaign, Trump needs Pakistan’s help.
It is clear to the U.S. administration that for this withdrawal, they need the Pakistan government and the military. The last few months have clearly shown that the U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad needs a supportive Pakistan regime. The American president, therefore, has moved from the previous recriminations directed at Pakistan to praising Khan and Pakistan, something that was quite obvious during Khan’s recent visit to Washington.
As long as Pakistan’s military and President Trump need Khan, the country’s opposition parties are unlikely to succeed in taking over power. The stars are aligned in favor of Khan’s PTI and not the opposition.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.