Over the weekend, Imran Khan became the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted in a no-confidence vote. USIP’s Tamanna Salikuddin says, “There are a lot of reasons why he lost the support of [the] military establishment and also parliament” but that “his downfall really, number one, was the economy.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason
Tamanna Salikuddin is director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she oversees the Institute's work in Pakistan and broader South Asia. Tamanna, good morning.

Tamanna Salikuddin
Good morning.

Julie Mason
Now, can you – it's a big job but – get us up to speed on Pakistan? What a mess.

Tamanna Salikuddin
Well, you know, Pakistan is never a dull moment. And the last month has been particularly interesting in terms of domestic politics. Over the last month, we've seen that the opposition in Pakistan – it's a parliamentary democracy – has been trying to remove through a no confidence motion, the very popular Prime Minister Imran Khan. And over the weekend, it was very, very interesting at a midnight vote on Saturday night/Sunday morning, they succeeded and Imran Khan, who was very famous cricketer in the 90s, and sort of erstwhile playboy became the first Pakistani Prime Minister to be voted out of office in a no confidence motion.

Julie Mason
And you say he was quite popular. What was the reaction of the people to this move?

Tamanna Salikuddin
Well, I mean, I think he was popular among a certain set of the population, right? He was popular in the '90s, because of leading Pakistan to a cricket victory. And for our American audience, think about, you know, the number one NFL player, number one baseball player, that's who Imran Khan was. He was a hero for Pakistanis. And he was well spoken, he was sort of this dashing figure who tapped into a lot of Pakistani feelings about corruption in their political system, a poor economy, and I would say, a reservoir of anti Americanism from 20 years of war in Afghanistan. So he was able to tap into that, and reach a certain class, definitely a middle class and a young generation. The vast majority of Pakistanis are young, and they want to see new politics. Unfortunately, in his four years as prime minister, he was really unable to deliver on the promises, the anti corruption promise, the better economy promise, jobs, etc. I mean, his downfall really, number one was the economy. I mean, they have terrible inflation, the rupee is losing out to the dollar in big ways. So they've had serious problems on that front. And then the other thing is, in Pakistan, it's really important if the military backs you, and he really did come to power behind the scenes with military backing. And that backing really disappeared for a lot of reasons. But I would say principally, he started trying to stand up and do things that the military didn't want him to do. Also, they felt that he was interfering on foreign policy. He wasn't delivering on domestic security and governance. So there are a lot of reasons that he sort of lost the support both of the military establishment but also in Parliament.

Julie Mason
How was Khan regarded by other world leaders?

Tamanna Salikuddin
You know, he was seen as this populist firebrand. And it's not particular to Pakistan, you're seeing this all over the world, this sort of right wing populism. We've seen it in our own country, where people accuse anybody who thinks differently of making up facts and not portraying the truth. So he was this firebrand, but mostly around the world he wasn't necessarily seen as this serious national security or serious policy prime minister. He was seen as that firebrand, obviously. Famously, he was very upset that U.S. President Biden hadn't called him. I think a lot of that has to do with as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, our focus on Pakistan has definitely come down. You know, if you compare it to the last 20 years when we had troops in Afghanistan next door.

Julie Mason
And a whole Af-Pak strategy, and it was like something to be managed, and now like, really, no one's talking about it.

Tamanna Salikuddin
I know, Ukraine is what everyone's talking about.

Julie Mason
But Tamanna, of course, the prospect of a destabilized or an unstable nuclear power must be unnerving. How chaotic is the situation now?

Tamanna Salikuddin
I would say that is probably not the worry. Like I said, this is the first time the opposition was able to have a no confidence motion. The Supreme Court ruled against some of these unconstitutional actions. So in a way, this is actually a victory for constitutional processes in Pakistan. So it points to stability rather than instability. I mean, you're going to have continued domestic political upheaval, you may have elections coming very soon. You have economic problems. But what this really showed is the system, definitely the military establishment, is firmly in control. And that's what I think a lot of countries not only in the region, but internationally, see some reassurance in terms of nuclear stability, the threat of terrorism, all of those things.

Julie Mason
That's funny. I mean, in other parts of the world, including this one, like if the military is in control of your elections, something's gone horribly wrong. But I mean, in Pakistan, the transfer of power is always attended by the military.

Tamanna Salikuddin
That's true. I mean, I think it's an unfortunate dilemma, right. But in Pakistan, the military spells stability and security at the same time, because of the military's now behind the scenes interference, it does limit the prospects for civilian democracy. And I think that is something that the U.S. really has problems contending with. I mean, we want stability, we want security, at the same time we want to foster democracy. And we often find ourselves in a bind there.

Julie Mason
Tamanna, so Khan wants to make a comeback. What are his prospects?

Tamanna Salikuddin
You know, I would say historically, it's unlikely that he could. If you look at Pakistani history, if the military kind of kicks you out, the next time around is probably not your day. So he made this cycle, the next election I highly doubt that he would be able to win outright. He might do all right, he does have some popular support. But overall, I wouldn't bet on him for the next government. He is gonna cause problems, he's gonna have a lot of rallies and make some crazy speeches, I'm sure. And say things that maybe make for great headlines, but I don't know if he'll do so well at the ballot box.

Julie Mason
President Biden today is going to be talking to Prime Minister Modi. And I have to imagine that the situation in Pakistan will come up.

Tamanna Salikuddin
I definitely think it will come up, it will be something that's interesting. I think both U.S. and India will be relieved that the current crisis is sort of resolved and that politics are continuing. But I think most of their attention really is going to focus on the Ukraine crisis, on thinking about India's relationship with Russia and India's relationship with the U.S. And then more broadly thinking about China, the Indo-Pacific strategy, and the very strong relationship between the U.S. and India, which obviously, for Pakistan, creates more tension given that Pakistan wants to be an ally of the U.S. but because of U.S.-India relations, sees itself also closer and closer to Beijing. So, what we have in South Asia is an emerging block politics of Beijing allied with Islamabad, New Delhi allied with Washington and thinking about how does that play out in the long term.

Julie Mason
Really, really interesting dynamics in that part of the world. Tamanna Salikuddin, thank you so much for joining me today.

Tamanna Salikuddin
Thanks so much for having me. Great to talk to you.

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