Post Partition Pakistan #30 Historical Developments 2022-2023

Pakistan's Political Crisis: Turmoil and Transformation (2022-2023) Unveiled

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23rd PM of Pakistan- Shahbaz Sharif

Shehbaz Sharif, a Pakistani politician and businessman, held the position of Pakistan’s 23rd prime minister from April 2022 to August 2023. He presently leads the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) as its president. Earlier in his political journey, he held the role of Chief Minister of Punjab on three separate occasions, establishing himself as the longest-serving Chief Minister of Punjab.

Background

Imran Khan’s Ouster

In 2022-2023, Pakistan witnessed a sustained political crisis following the removal of former Prime Minister Imran Khan via a no-confidence motion in April 2022. This crisis stemmed from the opposition’s no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, prompting Prime Minister Khan to call on the Pakistani establishment for support against rival politicians facing corruption allegations. The crisis not only affected the judiciary and democracy but also had economic repercussions, eroding public trust in the political system.

Leaked cables to The Intercept in August 2023 revealed that the U.S. government had covertly encouraged Khan’s removal, offering better relations in exchange and threatening isolation if he remained in power.

After his removal, Imran Khan called for early general elections, especially after his party dissolved provincial assemblies in Punjab and KP, leading to elections in 60% of the country in April and May 2023. Khan’s call for elections garnered significant public support.

Imran Khan’s arrest in May 2023 at Islamabad High Court triggered nationwide protests by his supporters, including reports of violence. Social media platforms were temporarily blocked. He was later released by the Supreme Court. In August 2023, Khan was arrested again on charges of selling state gifts and received a jail sentence and disqualification. However, his sentence was suspended by Islamabad High Court in late August 2023.

Imran Khan as PM

Pakistan held general elections on July 25, 2018, to choose members for the 15th National Assembly and four Provincial Assemblies. Major parties included PTI, led by Imran Khan, PML led by Shehbaz Sharif, and PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto.

PTI secured the most National Assembly seats but lacked a majority, leading to a coalition government with smaller parties.

After the election, several major parties, including PML-N, alleged significant vote rigging and administrative irregularities. Imran Khan formed a coalition government and appointed his cabinet.

The legitimacy of the 2018 elections remains a contentious issue, with varying opinions among neutral observers. While some, like FAFEN, noted improved transparency compared to previous polls, the EU Election Observation Mission expressed concerns about fairness compared to the 2013 elections

The PDM: A Political Movement Emerging from Allegations of Election Rigging in Pakistan

In September 2020, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was established, primarily rooted in claims of electoral misconduct during the 2018 Pakistani general election, which resulted in a victory for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Conversely, the Imran Khan-led government argued that the movement’s motivation stemmed from a series of corruption cases involving leaders from parties that had previously held power, namely the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Imran Khan’s Ouster: A Turning Point in Pakistan’s Political Landscape”

On March 8, 2022, the opposition initiated a motion of no confidence in the national assembly, and by the conclusion of March, Khan’s coalition allies had publicly withdrawn their backing.

The constitutional crisis in Pakistan began on April 3 when the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Qasim Khan Suri, dismissed the motion, prompting the opposition to seek recourse from the supreme court. Suri’s decision was later overturned, leading to another assembly session on April 9.

In a dramatic turn of events, just before midnight on April 9, Speaker Asad Qaiser resigned from his post, and in the early hours of April 10, Imran Khan was removed from office in the first successful vote of no confidence in the country’s history. Subsequently, Khan’s party also lost control of the Punjab government.

Imran Khan’s Struggle for Political Reform Amid Tensions with the Military

In 2021, tensions flared between Khan and the Pakistani military when Khan attempted to nominate his preferred candidate as the new ISI chief. The military resisted, leading Khan to eventually relent. However, these tensions persisted, culminating in Khan’s removal from power through a no-confidence motion in April 2022, widely believed to be arranged by the military.

Following his ousting, Imran Khan launched a campaign against the military, conducting rallies and delivering speeches critical of the military’s involvement in Pakistani politics.

The situation escalated significantly when Khan was arrested by paramilitary forces, Pakistan Rangers, directly from the high court, an action later deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. Subsequently, Khan’s supporters stormed the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and set fire to a senior general’s residence. In response, the military cracked down on Khan’s supporters, resulting in the arrest of several PTI leaders.

Khan’s campaign against the military has faced formidable challenges, given the military’s influential role in Pakistani politics. Khan himself has been detained on multiple occasions.

Despite these hurdles, Khan remains resolute in his mission to diminish the military’s political influence, firmly believing it to be a crucial step towards fostering a more democratic Pakistan

Imran Khan’s Removal: Via No-confidence motion

On March 28, 2022, a motion of no confidence was introduced against Prime Minister Imran Khan, setting off a chain of events that would reshape Pakistan’s political landscape. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government faced a gradual erosion of support, with allies defecting to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N)-led opposition.

Initially, independent members and the Jamhoori Watan Party switched sides, followed by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and dissidents from the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (PML-Q). The tipping point for the ruling coalition came with the defection of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – Pakistan.

The opposition claimed support from a group of PTI MNAs, led by the former secretary-general of the PTI, Jahangir Tareen. The PTI, however, argued that this violated Article 63(a) of the Pakistani constitution.

The scheduled vote on April 3 faced a setback when the deputy speaker, Qasim Suri, refused to conduct the vote, citing a foreign conspiracy against the government and invoking Article 5 of the constitution. The Supreme Court later deemed this move unconstitutional.

Finally, on April 9, the long-anticipated vote took place, resulting in Imran Khan’s removal from office. Two days later, on April 11, Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, marking a significant turning point in the country’s political landscape.

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Protests Erupt After Successful No-Confidence Vote against PTI led Government

In the wake of the no-confidence vote’s success, widespread marches and protests swept through the country, with many converging on the capital city, Islamabad. Simultaneously, Pakistani communities abroad, including those in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Italy, and other nations, also organized demonstrations.

On April 10, 2022, tens of thousands took to the streets in various cities across Pakistan, proudly waving large party flags and fervently chanting slogans. These widespread demonstrations ultimately gave rise to the Haqeeqi-Azadi Movement.

Political Shake-Up in Punjab: Chief Minister’s Resignation and the Election Saga

After enduring years of political pressure, Punjab’s Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, decided to step down from his position. The governor officially accepted his resignation on April 1, 2022.

In the aftermath of Buzdar’s departure, the then speaker, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, a member of the PML(Q), emerged as the nominee for the chief minister’s role, with backing from the PML(Q) and PTI. On the opposing side, the PML-N and PPP put forward Hamza Shehbaz of the PML(N) as their candidate.

However, an unusual situation arose during the election proceedings. Since the speaker, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, was a contestant in the election, the responsibility for overseeing the process fell to the deputy speaker, Dost Muhammad Mazari of the PTI. Initially scheduled for April 16, the election date was expedited to April 6, as directed by the deputy speaker. Nevertheless, the secretary assembly refused to comply with this directive, leading to a no-confidence motion against him within his own party.

Constitutional Crisis:

On April 3, 2022, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri declined to conduct a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan, citing Article 5 of the Pakistani Constitution. Subsequently, he dissolved the National Assembly, with both the Prime Minister and other members of the ruling PTI alleging a foreign conspiracy without presenting any substantiated evidence. The Supreme Court, taking the case suo moto, unanimously ruled 5-0 that this action was unconstitutional and mandated the vote to be held on April 9, 2022.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly:

Opposition parties in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly initiated a no-confidence motion against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan on April 8. The motion was filed by Awami National Party parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak, provincial senior vice president Khush Dil Khan, MPA Shagufta Malik, and other united opposition members in the provincial assembly secretariat. This motion garnered signatures from more than 20 members.

No-Confidence Motion Against Azad Kashmir Prime Minister:

Surprisingly, on April 12, 2022, the PTI submitted a no-confidence motion against their own Azad Kashmir prime minister.

Legislative Oath Controversies:

National Assembly:

When Shahbaz Sharif, a PML-N leader, assumed the position of Prime Minister, the responsibility of administering the oath fell on President Arif Alvi. However, due to the president’s illness, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani stepped in to administer the oath of office to the new Prime Minister in the president’s absence.

On April 19, 2022, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s cabinet, comprising 34 members, took their oaths, but President Arif Alvi once again declined to officiate.

Punjab Assembly:

A notable session of the Punjab Assembly occurred on April 16, 2022, during which the opposition’s candidate, Hamza Shahbaz, was elected as the new Chief Minister. However, he encountered an obstacle in taking the oath of office, as Governor Punjab Omar Sarfaraz Cheema refused to administer it. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled that Hamza Shehbaz’s election as Chief Minister was unconstitutional, citing the deputy speaker’s actions during the election as unconstitutional as well. This ruling led to the appointment of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the Chief Minister of Punjab.

Assassination Attempt on Imran Khan:

On November 3, 2022, during a political rally near Gujranwala, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, survived an assassination attempt. The rally, referred to as the “March to the Capital,” held significant importance for Khan’s bid to reverse his removal from office. Asad Umar, a senior leader, confirmed the attempt, stating, “Yes, he has been shot, there are pellets lodged in his leg, his bone has been chipped, he has also been shot in his thigh.”

Imran Khan’s Concerns and Political Actions:

Imran Khan, during an exclusive interview with CNN’s Becky Andersen, raised suspicions of a conspiracy involving Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Khan asserted that Lu pushed for his removal from office, contending that his presence in Pakistan strained US relations with India and Afghanistan. Khan referred to serious allegations made by Lu, suggesting that if Khan remained in power, Pakistan would face unspecified “consequences.” The US State Department spokesperson refuted Khan’s claims, stating that they were baseless. Khan cited an undisclosed diplomatic cable from the US to support his assertions.

Movements Led by PTI:

Haqeeqi Azadi March I: In 2022, Azadi March I, spearheaded by ousted former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chairman, was organized in protest against the government led by his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. On May 24, 2022, Khan announced a lengthy march from Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with support from his provincial government. Senior PTI members led another march from Lahore, Punjab’s capital. The government’s response involved the arrest of numerous potential marchers and the placement of numerous containers to obstruct protesters from reaching key areas, including the Red Zone in Islamabad.

Haqeeqi Azadi March II: Azadi March II, continuing from the 2022 Azadi March I, was launched by former Prime Minister Imran Khan against the Shehbaz Sharif government’s refusal to announce early general elections and the appointment of a new Pakistan Army Chief.

KP and Punjab Assembly Dissolution: The PTI, under Imran Khan’s leadership, dissolved two provincial assemblies—Punjab and KP—triggering elections in 60% of the country, scheduled for April 30, 2023, and May 28, 2023, respectively.

Supreme Court Verdict: Punjab’s elections, originally planned for April 30, 2023, were postponed to October 8, 2023, by the Election Commission of Pakistan, citing security and economic challenges, which violated the constitution’s directive to conduct elections within 90 days. On April 4, 2023, the Supreme Court declared this decision “unconstitutional” and ordered snap polls in Punjab on May 14.

Imran Khan’s Arrests and Protests: On May 9, Imran Khan was arrested, resulting in protests and injuries across Pakistan. Social media was also heavily restricted on the same day. On May 11, the Supreme Court ruled Khan’s arrest unlawful and ordered his release. However, many senior PTI leaders remained in police custody.

Conviction and Second Arrest of Imran Khan: On August 5, 2023, Khan was arrested for the second time on charges of selling state gifts. A session court judge barred Khan from contesting elections for five years.

Caretaker PM of Pakistan

Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, known for his role as a Pakistani politician, became caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, succeeding Shehbaz Sharif and assumed office on 14th August 2023. In addition to his current responsibilities, he has a background as the former spokesperson for the Government of Balochistan, a role he held from 2015 to 2017.

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