PODCAST: Where Now for Pakistan?

In a last-ditch effort to save his faltering premiership Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan has called for the national assembly to be dissolved foiling an attempt by the opposition to remove him from office.
7th April 202214 min

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[00:00:00] Yusuf: In a last-ditch effort to save his faltering premiership Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan has called for the national assembly to be dissolved foiling an attempt by the opposition to remove him from office. Imran Khan, he came to power four years ago in atmosphere of euphoria with slogans of welfare state and ending corruption. But he’s turned out actually rather similar to his predecessors. All of this takes place as economic indicators such as inflation continue to go through the roof and life for the average general Pakistani is getting a lot, lot worse. Now we’ve got Adnan Khan here, the founder of geopolity to discuss with us about Pakistan, and what’s next for Imran Khan? How you keeping Adnan.

[00:00:42] Adnan: Um, good to use of how you.

[00:00:44] Yusuf: I’m very well, thank you.

[00:00:45] Yusuf: Now things were going so well for Imran Khan of few years ago, but now we find that his popularity is really, really is really, really in decline, how we got to this position we are in today.

[00:00:55] Adnan: So Yusuf the position Imran Khan finds himself in it’s completely inline with Pakistan’s history. It’s not at odds with Pakistan history, no prime minister in the history of Pakistan has ever completed their term. In fact, only one government in Pakistan’s history has ever completed their term, which was back in 2013. So the position Imran Khan finds himself in, it’s actually quite normal in the grand scheme of Pakistan’s history. It doesn’t actually go, against it. Now, if you take your mind back, Imran Khan, he ran a campaign back in 2018 on ending corruption, dealing with the endemic corruption in Pakistan and fixing the economy. These were the usual populist slogans being thrown around by all populist leaders at the time. But really what’s happens is then is inflation has got far worse, inflation was actually bad even before COVID in first year, actually when he took up a government, but it’s got far worse and in a country where many rely on a daily wage, double digit inflation, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a big killer. Also Imran Khan faced numerous economic issues during this time, a current account deficit, falling currency reserves, poverty on the increase and he always pointed that the problem the causes of the problems were always elsewhere. So the macro picture has always been bad during Imran Khan’s four years in office despite the odd successful micro achievements. So Imran Khan and his supporters talk about the health care plan they had the fact that they’ve issued a healthcare ID, so everybody gets access to health care but all of that is really at odds with the macro picture we’re all the indicators are really, really bad. So in the end really Imran Khan turned out to be rather similar to all his predecessors, predecessors who he’s criticized, who he said are looting the country. Who he said are corrupt, in terms of actual competency he’s actually turned out to be rather mediocre just like them and in the end probably the, the worst omen for him was the fact that he fell out with the army over the appointment of the head of the ISI, the spy chief. So all of these, when you put them together what you find is this is how Imran Khan Khan uh, who started off we were a lot of hope in his innings and now he’s got to the point where he’s really falling from grace in the people eyes

[00:03:29] Yusuf: Adnan mentioned these economic problems that Imran Khan’s facing, now isn’t it, isn’t it a little bit unfair to blame these economic problems on Imran Khan and he, how he’s managed the country because a lot of the world is facing the same thing, especially with COVID-19.

[00:03:46] Adnan: OK Yusuf, so thats a common claim Imran Khan makes, he’s political party, the PTI, uh, make in fact in the last week or so Imran Khan has come out fighting and try to show his track record. Now yes COVID did make the situation bad and that’s the case for most of the world. However, in the case of Pakistan, What COVID did is exacerbated an already problematic situation, especially the economic situation. And just to show you, if you take poverty in Pakistan, 75% of population earn less than $5 a day. That was the case before Imran Khan came into power. It remained the case when he was in power. It remained the case during COVID. And the reason why poverty is so high in Pakistan is you have a services sector which is about 60% of Pakistan’s GDP, but 40% of the labor force, they work in agriculture. So the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy has the smallest amount of labor force working in that area. So as a result, poverty is a really high in Pakistan and that was already there. So Imran Kha n came into power promising. He’s going to fix poverty and he’s going to create a welfare state. So the problems he’s facing in this area have got nothing to do with COVID. They were already there and he’s not really addressed them. If we look at debt imran Khan now has the record of taking the most amount of debt during term in office he’s nearly doubled the debt really it was about just over $30 billion external debt. Now it’s up to $60 to $70 so rather than fixing the economy, what he’s actually done is taken on more debt and remember debt has to be repaid and 30% – 35% of Pakistan budget expenditure is on debt servicing. So as he’s taken out more debt more of the budget will be taken up. So these are actions which are not linked to COVID these, these actions, he’s actually done. Inflation has probably been the worst problem. In Pakistan inflation was actually single digits before Imran Khan came to power. When he came to power inflation went to double digits. It was 12%, 13%, it fell slightly with COVID and now it’s back into double digits. So under Imran Khan inflation been far worse under his regime than in previous regime, then inflation the killer in Pakistan, in a country where most people live in poverty, rising food prices literally kills people and then the other thing, really Imran Khan hasn’t dealt with what you said he would was the economic setup in Pakistan, he talks about a Medina state, a welfare state, ending corruption and raising taxes. And he’s not dealt with any of the issues. So the fact that most of Pakistan’s GDP and wealth come from sectors that most people don’t work in is not really a addressed. The fact that Pakistan’s industry has a lack of technology or lack of heavy industry, and it exports a mainly cotton. He hasn’t done anything to actually address that. So alot lot of the problems he’s facing and the crisis his in now they’re off his own making. He made grand promises, like all populists do, but he’s actually failed to deliver. So the problems he’s facing aren’t actually COVID related. They were actually there before, cOVID just exacerbated them.

[00:06:53] Yusuf: Yeah I do remember all those promises that he made he had a lot of, uh, fighting talk in him. He was talking about the changing the system about the corruption. Why did he fail to make any progress on these.

[00:07:04] Adnan: Well, I think there’s a couple of issues there. One of them is, is how serious was he really about this? We’ve got to keep in mind Imran Khan came to power at a time where populists across the ward were coming to power. So in America you Trump you had in in Hungary in Brazil, in India, across the world you saw populists leaders who were all coming to power and Imran Khan he rode that wave as well. So there was always a question mark on these slogans, does he actually plan to deliver on them or is it just to get him into power and now we know now we know everything hasn’t delivered on is somebody else’s fault or he does what’s called U-turns and he had himself during U-turn is a sign of a good leader. Maybe in his bubble it is, but in any other place doing a U-turn isn’t good. The other problem you’ve really got is Pakistan has an entrenched system with the military top brass sitting at the top. And really even if Imran Khan had any grand plans to make structural changes, it would have been impossible unless you took on the army and he never did that. He never planned to do that. And even when he did fall out with the army in the end it was over the appointment of a spy chief, which basically was one of the main factors of is downfall. So like all populist leaders Imran Khan offered the world and he didn’t deliver on any and most populars don’t plan to deliver on much of what they say anyway. But that’s what the whole idea of populism is. You tell other people what they want to hear only to get into power and that’s why we’re in the sorry scenario today where Imran Khan is a struggling for survival.

[00:08:36] Yusuf:  The army does seem to be very quiet on issue at the moment what’s their position on this?

[00:08:41] Adnan: So the military top brass they are watching this drama play out and there’s a couple of issues when they look at this drama. An important thing to bear in mind is the army played a very important role to get them Imran Khan into power. Imran Khan was really in the political wilderness for decades in the end many of the establishment figures they joined him and also you find that he carried out many many demonstration in the capital city, which is unheard of. Imran Khan came to power at a time where many people in Pakistan were losing confidence in the system. The years Nawas Sharif and Zardari had really made things worse. Imran Khan who’s from a cricketing background he’s not a politician. He’s not from a political family or political dentisty. So really the army took a backseat and Imran Khan was in a power. Now I think the important thing for the army is the drama is playing out now with the opposition Imran Khan it is very clear Imran Khan needs to go because he’s mismanaged the economy and you’ve got an opposition who come into power. All of this ensures there’s no discussion about real change in Pakistan there’s no discussion uprooting the existing system, which the army sits upon. So for the army this works out quite well they are not in the firing line, the faces will change from one set of one leader to another. So their position remains entrenched and questions are never raised about the army’s role. In fact people see the army as a savior of Pakistan. So they’ve been pretty quiet because for them, this is a pretty orderl transition. As unstable as it looks, this is usually how transitions happen, in Pakistan. So for them, this plays out quite well. They’re seeing a transition happen. It’s from one failed leader to another set of leaders. So the Army’s position it remains entrenched in the country that that serves them well.

[00:10:29] Yusuf: Now this opposition can you tell us a bit more about them? Who are they? What’s their plan?

[00:10:34] Adnan: So the opposition are all the same characters of the movie we’ve been watching for the last few decades. You’ve got the Sharif family led by shahbaz Sharif and his son. You got Mariam Nawaz who’s Nawas Sharif’s daughter. You then got Zardari Bhutto from the Bhutto dynasty, you’ve got his father Asif Ali Zardari, you got Maulana Fazlur Rahman, been around forever. So it’s all the usual characters, all the usual faces again. So these people obviously were all chucked at a power with Nawas Sharif and what they did was they bided their time and when they saw public mood was shifting against Imran Khan, they took advantage of that and connected with the people’s sentiments. And since then 2020, they been doing lots of demonstrations and calling out Imran Khan for his economic mis management. But again, it’s all the same people. It’s all the same faces again. So one of the, you know, their main claim is that the 2018 election was rigged, the army rigged the election and that’s why Imran Khan won and became prime minister and Imran Khan has been unable to really get rid of that opinion, is still there people still actually believe it and that’s why, what you’re seeing now is Imran Khan has talking about a foreign plot to overthrow him because that’s all he can argue now, he, you know, his the grand speeches, they’ve all gone now because people have seen the reality of his leadership. So the opposition really it’s the same old guys they’ve been around for the last two or three decades. They are no new people as such it’s the same old figures, same old characters in the movie all over again.

[00:12:02] Yusuf: This foreign plot that you mentioned is there any truth to that or was he just trying to save face.

[00:12:07] Adnan: So there’s no foreign plot there’s a domestic plot and the plotters are there in front of him. Its shahbaz Sharif, it’s Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, its Fazlur Rahman. There’s no secret plot here the opposition who are trying to overthrow him, they are very open what they’re doing. They going on a daytime TV, they having massive demonstrations, they’re not hiding. That’s the plot that’s actually going on in front of him. And the thing is he can’t really counter that plot now because what they’re saying is true, although they’re doing it for their own opportunistic purposes, what they’re saying about his economic mismanagement is actually true. So what he’s tried to do Imran Khan is deflect by talking about a foreign plot he gave a long speech where he was giving, you know, he fighting for his life effectively and he let slip that it was America, that in a letter wrote that he wants to remove him. That’s very interesting because just the end of last month, March Pakistan’s navy did military drills with America’s Navy. So that’s not exactly a relationship that you would expect if someone’s trying to do a plot against you just a couple of weeks ago Imran Khan’s foreign minister Shah Masood Qurashi he’s in talks and tweeting about how America and Pakistan’s relationship is strong, how they’re talking about strategic issues and things like that. So you can clearly see what Imran Khan is saying is actually going against even what his own party are doing. So there’s no foreign plot here what he’s trying to do is try and feed into the conspiracy theories which seemed to have a lot of legs in Pakistan. So he’s trying to tap into that at the moment, but if the best argument you got against domestic plotters is there’s a foreign plot and you’re the prime minister and that’s the best you can serve it really shows you the weak position.

[00:13:44] Yusuf: Ultimately all of this is about the future of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan. Will things actually be better with Imran Khan gone. Do you see the opposition doing any better than Imran Khan? How do you see things playing out here?

[00:13:57] Adnan: So no, I think things will only get worse. These opposition members who are going to come into power. They’ve been in power before, they ran the country into the ground. They indebted the country. They plundered the country. So judging by history, they’re not gonna do anything different Nawaz, Sharif, and his family have been in power on three occasions, they been in power in the 1990s, they’ve being power after 2010, they’ve done the same. So nothing’s going to change in fact, what these guys are they’re opportunists sensing that Imran Khan is struggling. They jumped on it in order to remove him and get to power. They have not thought what they plan to do the day after. There is no strategy or plan to deal with poverty, debt, inflation, which are killing people, literally. So really what will happen and there’ll be a honeymoon period for short period, and then the same problems will come up again. In factPakistan’s debt repayments are going to be due and they’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions. Do you spend on Pakistan or do you spend on repaying the debt? So getting rid of Imran Khan isn’t actually going to change anything, unfortunately, and fundamentally the underlying system where the state doesn’t actually represent the people. The state represents the short and narrow interests of the elite. Be they a political dynasty or a business class family. Everyone wants to get into power in order to plunder the state and these opposition members that’s what they’re planning to do. Imran Khan got in, they lost out and now they’re removing Imran Khan and they want the benefits of being the leaders of the state so they can plunder it for themselves. So the fact that they have no solutions all they keep saying is Imran Khan bad shows you there’s no actual plane and the likely chance is they will all turn on each other afterwards aswell. Once Imran Khan out the way there’ll be fight for positions for departments for money, and then they will turn on each other. So Pakistans politics is set to get even more unstable. So the situation for your average Pakistani is not going to change public, going to get worse unfortunately.

[00:15:51] Yusuf: Thank you for your time today Adnan. Now to the audience, if you want to learn more about this issue or any other issues that you see on the news, you can check out our website is on the website is www.thegeopolitycom. Thank you for listening.

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