The fallout from Pakistan’s recent vote of no-confidence – that saw Imran Khan ousted in favour of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – has seen the nuclear-armed nation edge toward civil war.
In Islamabad, protesters have spent days setting trees on fire (where is the United Nations Climate Change committee when you need them?) along with dozens of vehicles with the intention of paralysing Pakistan’s capital city which emerged this morning shrouded in smoke.
The Gravitas (Tokyo Edition) said it best:
‘Now to Pakistan, which remains on the boil, and you have to marvel at their consistency here. No matter who’s in power, there’s always a crisis brewing.’
Khan issued a call to arms designed to rally citizens to his cause. It has been answered by thousands of loyal followers around the country. Khan directed them to gather to cause disruption, with the assembled mob eventually engaging in physical damage to property across many cities.
‘I invite my whole nation on May 25. I will meet you in Islamabad […] no matter how long it takes, we will stay in Islamabad until our demands of dissolution of assemblies and a date of free and fair elections is announced. We don’t demand anything else, just fair and transparent elections, I repeat.’
Protesters have been killed and police injured. Khan took to Twitter to comment on the situation:
‘My heartfelt condolences go to the families of our two martyred PTI workers, Faisal Abbas Chaudhry from Lahore & Syed Ahmed Jan from Mardan as a result of Punjab police violence during our peaceful Azadi March. PTI will take full financial responsibility for their families.’
It appears that Imran Khan is struggling to accept his loss of power earlier this year – something Australian readers will be familiar with. After finding himself thrown out of office following a short political career plagued by questionable decisions, he has led a series of intimidating ‘freedom marches’.
Khan is insisting that the no-confidence motion was unfair, but it was during his 2018 elevation to the Prime Ministership that Khan faced allegations of widespread vote rigging, electoral malpractice, and interference from the military. It is a shadow that has hung over his presidency despite observers from the European Union deeming the results ‘satisfactory’, which sounds a bit like how you describe the nutritional quality of fast food.
Regardless, it is clear that he remains able to assemble support among the general population.
We have entered Punjab and will InshAllah be heading towards Islamabad.
No amount of state oppression and fascism by this imported govt can stop or deter our march.#حقیقی_آزادی_مارچ pic.twitter.com/NMRNRU2F3G
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 25, 2022
In reality, Khan was outplayed by two of Pakistan’s political movements headed by the Sharif and Bhutto families. Although these two are not particularly friendly, they joined forces to get rid of Khan and his increasingly radicalised rule. It is an unsurprising turn of events for a nation with a political history dominated by military rule and a paper-thin democracy.
On the other hand, Khan alleges that the no-confidence motion was sponsored by America as ‘punishment’ for the visit he made to Moscow to meet with President Putin on the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. There is no evidence of this conspiracy, given the state of Pakistan’s domestic politics at the time made Khan’s demise a certainty.
He has given the democratically elected government 6 days to meet his demands – or else. He wants another round of elections and is not prepared to wait for the normal election cycle.
Already economy is in a tailspin. I want to warn the crooks & their handlers that these undemocratic & fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation & push the country into a state of anarchy.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 23, 2022
It’s probably not a good sign for ‘free and fair elections’ that Khan has taken to calling his protest movement a ‘Jihad’ rather than politics – something he said to party members on May 9. After originally starting political life from a liberal position, Khan has taken to wrapping his message in heavy religious ‘saviour’ overtones after it proved effective in motivating the devout Islamic masses to his cause.
‘Supporters, I want to tell my people that the way they have tried scaring you since last night, for god sake, break these shackles of fear.’
The ex-cricket captain has fallen a long way from the days when he was a Western media darling after he openly sympathised with the Taliban – a terrorist group operating in several nations. This led to him being known as ‘Taliban Khan’.
But don’t worry. He increased taxes, committed to renewable energy, launched a reforestation project (not at all undermined by his supporters burning parts of the city), expanded protected areas, clamped down on freedom of expression and speech, and cuddled up closer to China and Russia – which should line him up for a position on the UN Human Rights Committee next year.
Also working in Khan’s favour was his earlier comment that he ‘did not know’ much about China running concentration camps for its Uyghur Muslims and a letter he penned to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook asking the social media giant to ban what he called ‘Islamophobic content’ – a demand made at a time shortly after twenty years of constant Islamic terror attacks (including the beheadings of Christians) on Western soil.
This is all a little hypocritical, given Pakistan’s blasphemy laws see people lynched by mobs of enraged locals for speaking against Islam – including nearly a hundred people in recent history being beaten, burned, and hung as part of murders that, while not ‘lawful’, were certainly encouraged by the existence of the law with the acts committed shortly after their trials ended.
Instead of putting a stop to blasphemy laws, Imran Khan tried to expand them out into other nations under the banner of ‘Islamophobia’. There is some irony to be had that Khan (along with 150 others) found himself under accusation of blasphemy by the new government for ‘using religion as a tool to intimidate political rivals’ after people allegedly connected to him ‘heckled’ Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Khan’s demands are being ignored, with the Pakistan government insisting that elections will be held next year as planned.
As the Gravitas report put it, there will be ongoing chaos regardless of the outcome.
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