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The confident resurgence of Imran Khan

By Mehroz Siraj - posted Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's removal from office in April 2022 is a landmark moment in Pakistan's short and chequered political history. The opposition's narrative, coupled with public displays of horse-trading, added to allegations of corruption and foreign interference, finally pushed Mr Khan out of office, with a parliamentary vote of no confidence on April 9th.

However it was what happened on the night the vote was taken that fuelled a massive public reaction in favour of Mr Khan – a reaction that has kept on spiralling up. The day after Khan's ouster the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Urdu news service reported that attempts had been made to arrest Mr Khan. The prompt rebuttal issued by the Pakistan Army's public relations department came too late: the damage was already done. Other BBC reports about the presence of military trucks in Islamabad and subsequent police brutalities at Mr Khan's rallies have further emboldened millions of people in Pakistan. They are protesting against a political system that only serves a small class of corrupt business and political elites.

Mr Khan's narrative, with its strong emphasis on independent economic and foreign policies, has earned him fans in Pakistan and enemies abroad. At home, Mr Khan's stubborn, serious fightback against the political dynasties that brought him down has shown ordinary Pakistanis that the current political setup is not designed to serve the interests of the people of Pakistan. Take, for example, the country's justice system. According to a major Pakistani English language daily, The Nation, at the end of January this year 53,964 cases were pending hearings and adjudications in Pakistan's Supreme Court. Most of these cases have been dragging on for years. However, when it came to implementing the apex court's decision to proceed with its no confidence vote, the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court willingly opened their doors at midnight. This same court has yet to decide on the case stemming from a major massacre many years ago in the city of Lahore in which more than ten people were killed. The current Prime Minister, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, and his current interior minister, Mr Rana Sanaullah, were named as prime suspects in that case, according to relevant court documents and police reports. That case has also been adjourned indefinitely by the top court.


At the grassroots level, Pakistan is changing, but the West's politicians and media have not registered this fact. According to a major United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, about 65 percent of Pakistan's population is less than 30 years old. Thirty percent of the population is between 15 and 29 years old. These youth are technologically savvy, educated and they do not hold the same political allegiances that have governed Pakistani society since the 1970s. These young people are the engines that can propel Pakistan's economy upwards and they are eager for opportunity. That's why Mr Khan has been able to draw crowds in massive numbers since his removal from office.

Khan has maintained that the current administration of Mr Shehbaz Sharif includes cabinet members charged with massive corruption, with their cases in the courts. Mr Khan also says the United States threatened his government with dire consequences due to his strong stance on Pakistan's policy-making independence. He claims that the US Under Secretary of State for South Asia, Donald Liu, threatened his government over their policy to boost trade with Russia. This claim strikes a deep chord with ordinary Pakistanis.

Pakistanis have not forgotten how the George W. Bush administration threatened President Musharraf in the aftermath of 9/11. In his autobiography, Mr Musharraf wrote that the Deputy Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, Richard Armitage, had threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age in the absence of complete cooperation after 9/11. Mr Khan's boisterous defiance of the US-led war in Afghanistan and his subsequent refusal to lend any military bases to the US in Pakistan has indeed ruffled some feathers in the country's military establishment. However, his position on the war went over very well with the people of Pakistan, who have borne the brunt of socio-economic costs of the war on terror.

Mr Khan leaves the country not only with its highest level of foreign currency reserves but also notching a 6 per cent GDP growth rate –despite the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. His government's economic policies were benefitting ordinary Pakistanis. In its reporting on the recently released national economic survey, a leading daily in Pakistan, Business Recorder, noted that the country's services sector and overall industrial growth between 2021 and 2022 had been around seven percent. In a March 2022 report, Al-Jazeera reported that Pakistan's tech start-ups had collectively raised $486 million since Mr Khan's government's government came to office.These new investments, along with the former government's reforms of health insurance (aiming towards a universal system) and agriculture, would have generated many job opportunities for educated urban youths.

Unfortunately, most of these economic developments have been completely overlooked by the media and policy makers of the western world. If they had worked with Mr Khan and his government, the United States and its English-speaking allies would have been able to maintain vital bridges of diplomacy vis a vis China and Russia. Underestimating the importance of maintaining strong people-to-people relations with Pakistan resulted in a huge political cost for the western world. All is not lost, however. Not yet. To mend fences with Pakistan, establishing trust with the country's elected representatives should be the first step in the right direction.

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About the Author

Mehroz Siraj is a journalist with more than five years of writing and reporting experience having worked with newspapers in Pakistan, and on many websites around the world. Mehroz is a Pakistani international student at RMIT University.

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