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After Parliament ouster, Pakistan PM vows to fight back

Islamabad, April 10: The ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan in a parliamentary no-confidence vote early Sunday set Pakistan on an uncertain political path, with Khan calling on supporters to take to the streets in protest and the political opposition preparing to install his replacement.

Khan was brought down after a day of drama and often vitriolic remarks. His supporters accused Washington of orchestrating his ouster and his party walked out of Parliament shortly before the vote. In the end, 174 lawmakers in the 342-seat Parliament voted to depose him, two more than the required simple majority.

Khan’s successor is to be elected and sworn in by Parliament on Monday. The leading contender is Shahbaz Sharif, a brother of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Shahbaz Sharif heads the largest party in a diverse alliance of opposition factions that span the spectrum from the left to radically religious. Khan’s nominee for prime minister will be his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Khan’s ouster comes amid his cooling relations with the powerful military and an economy struggling with high inflation and a plummeting Pakistani rupee. The opposition has charged Khan’s government with economic mismanagement.

Khan has claimed the U.S. worked behind the scenes to bring him down, purportedly because of Washington’s displeasure over his independent foreign policy choices, which often favor China and Russia. He has occasionally defied America and stridently criticized America’s post 9/11 war on terror. Khan said America was deeply disturbed by his visit to Russia and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24, the start of the devastating war in Ukraine.

The U.S. State Department has denied his allegations.

Elizabeth Threlkeld, a Pakistan expert at the U.S.-based The Stimson Center, said that even as prime minister, Khan often played the role of opposition leader.

“His removal would see him to a role he knows well, armed with a narrative of victimhood from unfounded claims of international interference,” she said. “His base will remain loyal, though I expect both his controversial attempt to remain in power and reduced military backing will lose him less committed supporters.”

Khan would seem to have few options going forward.

General elections are not scheduled before August 2023. Even if the new prime minister favors early elections, this would likely not happen before October. The Pakistan Election Commission, which oversees polls, told the Supreme Court last week it had still to finish re-aligning constituencies in line with the results of a 2017 census before polls could be held.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s vote, giant steel containers stacked on top of each other blocked main roads leading to Parliament and to the diplomatic enclave in the capital of Islamabad. Khan has called on his supporters to gather late Sunday, after the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, predicted a turbulent time ahead for Pakistan.

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