Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Facing Pakistan’s political turmoil from afar

Imran Khan’s dramatic fall from office, the political uncertainty in Pakistan, and the living costs of it all.

Dec 12, 2022

I woke up on April 3, to my Twitter feed buzzing with phrases that sounded way too familiar: the assembly has been dissolved, constitutional crisis, reelection, supreme court has been summoned.
Instinctively, the first thought that crossed my mind was: martial law? Are we under military dictatorship again? In that half-drowsy, confused, still-trying-to-open-my-eyes-properly state, I was ready to march out on the streets in protest, in real anger and agitation: not again, not now, not anymore.
Rubbing my eyes, I opened WhatsApp where friends were speculating and sending snippets of news. The speaker of the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament had dismissed the no-confidence motion against the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, citing Article five of the Constitution that pledges loyalty to the state, while the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, had dissolved the national assembly. Many called it an unconstitutional move that would sabotage what little democracy Pakistan had. Imran Khan’s supporters hailed the "kaptaan" (captain) for his, arguably, strategically wise political move while some questioned whether a constitution marginalizing various minority groups should even be preserved in the first place. Some, like me, still feared that a military takeover would restrict what little freedom we have, while most resorted to memes as a coping mechanism.
Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, rose to popularity with his staunch anti-corruption narrative. A populist, his promise of change that relied on supplanting “corrupt” dynastic politicians provided an easy-to-digest solution to Pakistan’s issues and largely appealed to the middle class. However, despite his anti-corruption narrative, he ultimately resorted to the electables in the 2018 elections and, in an abrupt turnaround, began welcoming formerly “corrupt” powerful political actors from opposing parties, many of whom he had accused of corruption in the past. This, alongside support from Pakistan’s military, commonly referred to as the “establishment,” ultimately paved the way for Khan’s narrow win in the elections and the formation of what many refer to as the “hybrid regime”, i.e. a civilian government with military backing.
Interestingly so, the military alliance that propelled his rise also ultimately led to his downfall. In lead up to the no-confidence motion, Khan held rallies across the country, building the narrative of a foreign conspiracy to bring his government down. He based his claim on an encoded diplomatic cable sent by the Pakistani ambassador in Washington that expressed US support for the no-confidence motion. The cable was never made public and later, the national security council found no proof of conspiracy or foreign involvement, but the narrative helped Khan build more support.
As unsubstantiated as this claim sounded, I was able to understand why so many still chose to believe it. Pakistan had been in a state of perpetual turmoil, and people needed some semblance of hope. If believing in a narrative which makes them feel like being a part of something big gives them that hope, then they will cling to it. Cynical as it may sound, to me the future looked very bleak. There was an acute realization that Pakistan’s political sphere was dominated by the same voices, same narratives, and same faces and will for long. Foreign conspiracy, religion and anti-corruption — Khan was capitalizing on similar political tools that those before him had used. I felt the erasure of grassroots politics and voices more strongly than ever; how long will we be caught in this cycle, where every politician deploys the same polarizing tools to win support? I didn’t have an answer. All I felt was despondency.
Still, driven by maybe some semblance of hope, or just to put that constant, nagging feeling of uncertainty to some rest, I sat glued to the couch in front of the television screen on April 7, waiting for the Supreme Court to give verdict on whether the rejection of the no-confidence motion and the subsequent dissolution of assemblies was unconstitutional. The fear of history repeating itself was very palpable. With a 5-0 verdict, the court decided that the dissolution of the assembly was unconstitutional and the parliament would reconvene on April 9 to vote on the no-confidence motion.
I was right, I said out aloud, but in that moment, what mattered for my family and I, among many others, was the impact that this political uncertainty would have on the economy, especially with the already surging inflation. Holding that uncertainty close, we sat through the day on the 9th, watching PTI lawmakers filibuster the motion for as long as they could. At midnight, after the speaker of the assembly resigned and a new speaker from the opposition bench took over, the motion was voted on, and Khan was no longer the Prime Minister. He was to be replaced by an across-the-aisle alliance comprising of center-left (Pakistan People’s party), center-right (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz), and far-right (Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam) parties…an alliance of convenience that could fall anytime.
I witnessed the first successful no-confidence motion in Pakistan’s history and saw another Prime Minister not complete his term. One side of the aisle hailed it as a win for democracy while supporters of the other side started trending "#importedgovernmentnamanzoor" (imported government is unacceptable) on Twitter. Khan’s supporters marched on the streets in the coming days against what they believed was a foreign conspiracy, and there was open criticism against the military for its involvement in the removal of Khan. However, to expect a tide of change that would call for accountability of the establishment would have been delusional for there was no discourse on the military as an institution and its involvement in Pakistani politics. Rather, the criticism was centered around the Army Chief and his withdrawal of support from Khan.
However, the problem was never the military’s involvement but rather, its refusal to support Khan. On the other side of the aisle, criticism of the hybrid regime was merely driven by the fact that they had fallen out of the establishment’s favor.
What made this rather precarious situation worse was witnessing the impact of populist economic policies. Closer to the no-confidence motion, Khan had started subsidizing fuel prices which led to complications with the International Monetary Fund program. The policy was a ticking time bomb — any government following his would have to stop the subsidization.
As expected, the new finance minister from the coalition government removed fuel subsidies leading to a stark rise in prices. The rising inflation meant cutting down expenses in every way possible: how will we carry on if prices keep rising? I saw people trying to squeeze in more than one job, worrying for themselves, for their children and for their future. I carry with me the constant anxiety of knowing that survival back home is getting tougher day by day, and there isn’t much I can do.
Living in Abu Dhabi has created a strong disconnect. I am farther from home than I have ever been, as the rising prices and protests make their way to every conversation I have with family back home. I follow news in snippets whenever I can, but more than that, I just worry. Imran Khan was shot in the leg during one of his rallies — a part of his long march against the government — this sounds really dangerous for an already politically charged atmosphere…will there be more protests, potentially violent ones? More uncertainty?
I worried for those back home. There was a change of command in the military, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) just revoked its ceasefire with the government, the floods were catastrophic, and we are ill-equipped to deal with any climate catastrophe. Let alone the distant future, what does the next day hold for family, friends, and people back home? I am too far from home for it to have a constant toll, but not too far to not worry.
Manahil Faisal is a contributing writer. Email them at
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