Imran Khan came to power in 2018 in a peculiar way. His party, Pakistan Teherik-e-Insaaf (PTI) could not garner a majority on its own but managed to form the government through a coalition with eight other small parties.
Opposition parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples’ Party largely cried foul and accused the Pakistani Army of rigging the elections and Imran Khan being a ‘puppet’ of the Army. Imran Khan took oath and promised to build a ‘Naya Pakistan’ that would stand out as an ideal Islamic republic – a reformed state based on Islamic principles excelling in all aspects of growth.
Yet, 18 months into the Prime Minister’s office, Imran Khan has plunged Pakistan into economic and social chaos, resulting in the Pakistani Army tightening its grip over majority of the power structure in the country.
Floundering Economy and Growth
The Pakistani economy was already in shambles when Imran Khan took over. The Pakistan Economic Survey of 2019 clearly portrayed a dismal economic situation. All financial indicators suggested a contraction. Economic growth rate was expected to fall to 2.4%; the Covid-19 pandemic has further slimmed Pakistani economy’s chances of revival as experts project a growth rate of -0.38% this current fiscal year.
Adding to this is Pakistan’s humongous public debt of PKR 33.4 trillion and the free fall of Pakistani rupee against the U.S dollar which has significantly impacted its foreign currency reserves.
Pashtun and Baloch Resistance Movements
Along with its economy, Pakistan’s internal stability is also at stake.
Pashtuns, the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan, are largely concentrated in Pakistan’s north-western areas, close to the Afghan border. They have been persecuted in the name of anti-terror operations by the Pakistani Army and Police for more than a decade. Certain Afghanistan-based terror groups have taken shelter in Pashtun areas of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s operations against them have caused grave damages to the Pashtun community. As such, the Pashtuns have been collateral damage.
In response, the Pashtun community launched the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in 2018. Spearheaded by a young Pashtun human rights activist Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, the PTM is indigenous and organic, manifesting the anger and frustration of the Pashtun masses against the Pakistani establishments. PTM’s peaceful and innovative protests have spooked the Pakistani Army so much that latter has put a blanket ban on media coverage of the PTM.
The extended imprisonment of PTM MPs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar and the orchestrated murder of PTM politician and activist Arif Wazir in May 2020 has only added fuel to the fire, intensifying dissent against the Army and the government.
Meanwhile, the struggle of the indigenous people of Balochistan, demanding freedom and separation from Pakistan, has been going on since 1948. Armed groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Army, Balochistan Liberation United Front and many others have proven to be a thorn in the Pakistani establishment’s side.
The Balochs have repeatedly called out the establishment for the persecution of their community, rapes, forced disappearances and resulting social turmoil in the province. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has led to demographic changes, increased surveillance and curtailment of freedoms and human rights in Balochistan in order to protect Chinese business interests. The recent death of Baloch journalist and activist Sajid Hussain in Sweden has raised speculations on the involvement of the Pakistani deep state.
Baloch freedom fighter groups have been on the offensive and their operations in the last few weeks have caused the Pakistani Army over a dozen casualties. Post US exit from Afghanistan, the changing power dynamics are likely to intensify this armed struggle.
Media and Press Censorship
Imran Khan and the current Pakistani Army have a turbulent relationship with the media. Journalists, activists, and authors have been forced to live in extreme fear and censorship. In the last few months, media groups seen critical of Imran Khan’s government have been targeted. In 2019, the broadcast of former President Asif Ali Zardari’s interview on Geo News was cut short few minutes after it started. Pakistani news channels such as Abb Takk Tv and 24 News were taken off the air in July 2019 for covering family members of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Prominent journalists such as Najam Sethi and Murtaza Solangi have been forced out of their jobs. Journalists such as Gul Bukhari and Taha Siddiqi luckily found refuge abroad. Amidst all this, Imran Khan parrots that Pakistani media has more freedom than some European countries.
The military establishment has gone one step further by appointing former DG ISPR (Retd) Lt Gen Asim Bajwa as adviser to the PM on information. This has been touted as the Army’s way of keeping an eye on government functioning and handling of the media, furthering the non-transparency within Pakistan.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. PM Imran Khan’s dismal leadership is causing him to mishandle the situation by not enforcing proper lockdown measures. During the initial days of the pandemic, Imran Khan had bowed down to religious leaders’ demands of not curbing public movement and gathering.
With economic breakdown, media censorship and the Army virtually in control of the country, Imran Khan’s inability to salvage the situation is evident. A nuclear Pakistan on the brink of anarchy should worry the world. Imran Khan’s mismanagement of Pakistan seems to be taking the country further into social chaos and economic unrest which, in all probability, will burn down his “Naya Pakistan” dream.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.