On Sunday, April 10, 174 out of a total 342 members of Pakistan’s parliament voted in favor of a no-confidence motion which required 172 votes, leading to the removal of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Imran Khan, former cricket player, was elected in 2018 on the promise of reducing corruption and economic inequality.
Amidst rising inflation, unemployment, and stalls surrounding a loan from the International Monetary Fund, Khan’s leadership has been criticized for the economic downturns. Khan previously led protests demanding the removal of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on the basis of corruption. During his time in office, Khan sought to bring accountability to the corruption of opposition parties. However, a leak of financial documents of world leaders and wealthy individuals, known as the Pandora Papers, revealed that some Khan’s closest allies moved money abroad to circumvent taxing.
One important piece in Pakistan’s equation of political power is the military which had previously ruled almost half of the nation’s 75 years of existence. Pakistan is one of the nine countries possessing nuclear weapons and has the sixth-largest military in the world. While the military seemed to fully support Khan during the onset of his political power, disagreement between the two may have jeopardized that support. Khan replaced General Faiz Hameed with General Nadeem Ahmad Anjum, who ordered his forces to stay away from politics. Meanwhile, the Army chief has commanded the military to counter the rise in militant attacks in Pakistan.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have also weakened in recent years as Pakistan cooperates with the US as a partner against counterterrorism but must balance its alliance with China. Khan visited Russia ahead of Putin’s invasion into Ukraine and has stayed neutral regarding the war. Some officials in Pakistan’s military want to maintain a friendly relationship with the US, but now Khan has also turned to accusing the US of conspiring with his opponents to oust him from power.
Another key player that has turned on Khan is Pakistan’s Supreme Court. After Khan dissolved Parliament last week in an attempt to block the no confidence vote, the court ruled that this move was unconstitutional. Although the court upheld the rule of law, some question whether the decision was truly impartial and the extent of the military’s influence over the judicial system.
To replace Khan, Parliament elected Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister until another leader is elected by the people in a general election no later than July 2023. However, Khan has condemned the election, calling it an “insult to this country.”
Sharif promised to address the economic crisis and stated that relations with the US are vital for Pakistan as well as improving ties with India and China, including by accelerating the construction of a $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a series of infrastructure projects.
Shahbaz Sharif is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, fined $10.6 million, and barred by the Supreme Court from holding public office for charges of corruption revealed by the Panama Papers.
Shahbaz Sharif was chief minister three times in the Punjab province, where 60% of Pakistan’s population reside. In this position, Sharif formed direct deals with China for major infrastructure projects.
The shift to this new leader could lead to friendlier relations between Pakistan and both the United States and China. Shahbaz Sharif will take on the same challenge of balancing ties with two of the most powerful nations in the world.