Plus ça change in Pakistan

Yanis Iqbal

May 1, 2022

On April 11, 2022, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s then prime minister, lost a no-confidence motion and was forced to leave office. This ouster was preceded by a series of tumultuous events. The opposition tabled a no-confidence motion against him on March 8, 2022, citing as their reasons corruption, economic mismanagement, double-digit inflation, and dwindling foreign exchange reserves. These troubles were intensified by internal schisms within Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). As Tariq Ali observes in the New Left Review Sidecar, “leading members” of PTI were annoyed by “the debacle in Punjab, where… [Khan’s] wife insisted on handing the role of Chief Minister to the PTI parliamentarian Usman Buzdar: a man that even the most charitable observer would describe as a dim-witted and low-grade politician.”

Buzdar’s appointment “divided Khan’s supporters, angered the Army, and played into the opposition’s hands.” The Zardari-Bhuttos’ Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Sharif brothers’ Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), family fiefdoms which exercise a major influence on Pakistani politics, publicly accused Buzdar of being little more than a thieving cash-cow for the first lady. They alleged that she, her first husband, and her son were taking a cut from all the business deals he negotiated in the province. Buzdar enflamed the situation through his own stupidity, arrogance, and gangsterism, antagonizing many in the PTI. Two factional splits, both led by oligarchs, ensued. These domestic conflicts gained momentum due to a changing international conjuncture.

The unipolar moment initiated by the fall of the Soviet Union began experiencing difficulties as the US over-extended its imperial sinews in two ways. First, the financialization of capital accumulation – based on the unsustainable growth of speculative bubbles – led to the overleveraging of America’s domestic economy, culminating in the credit crisis of 2008. Second, the chaotic attempt to fight several wars at the same time (Afghanistan, Iraq, Sahel) unleashed turbulent dynamics of turbo-militarism, which demonstrated that the “US military machine could easily destroy a country’s institutions…but it could not subordinate its populations. Battles could be won, but not long-term wars.” These global developments gave rise to contradictions within PTI’s foreign policy.

With the growing advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Imran Khan wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in September 2021, saying:

Since 2001, I have repeatedly warned that the Afghan war was unwinnable. Given their history, Afghans would never accept a protracted foreign military presence, and no outsider, including Pakistan, could change this reality. Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments after 9/11 sought to please the United States instead of pointing out the error of a military-dominated approach.

After US President Joe Biden’s announcement of the Afghanistan withdrawal, Khan said, “Pakistan is just considered only to be useful in the context of somehow settling this mess which has been left behind after 20 years of trying to find a military solution when there was not one.”

The criticism of American foreign policy was not only voiced by Khan. Then National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf also expressed disappointment over Biden’s reluctance to contact the prime minister, saying that Islamabad had other “options” if the American leader continued to ignore the country’s leadership. In the beginning of 2022, he stated, “It [Pakistan] is still not [free from US influence] and I doubt that there is any country which is free from it.” He added that the country has no financial independence, being dependent on loans from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other foreign organizations. “When we cannot [fulfill] the demands, we seek foreign loans. When you procure loans, your economic sovereignty is compromised.”