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Pakistan: Imran Khan forced out – the political crisis continues

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Imran Khan's time as prime minister ended in the last moments of Saturday, 9th April, after weeks of political crisis and a power struggle between his PTI-led government and the opposition. A vote of no-confidence, passed by a parliamentary majority around the traditional bourgeois parties the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, PML-N, and the Pakistan People's Party, PPP, finally finished off the government. 174 deputes – just two more than the required majority of the 342 members of parliament – ensured the end of Khan’s government for now.

On Monday, 11th April, PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the new prime minister by the same 174 votes. The PTI deputies boycotted the vote and Imran Khan called for mobilisations against the new government.

This clearly signals that, while the election of Sharif may settle the question who runs the government for the moment, it will clearly not end the divisions and power struggle within the ruling class or the polarisation in Pakistani society. The country is not only at the centre of a struggle between the old, western imperialist powers, the US and the European countries, and the new Chinese imperialism. It is also heading towards an economic catastrophe. The rupee lost 40 % compared to the US dollar during Khan's premiership.

Ironically, the pandemic helped to avoid an economic catastrophe, since money was pumped into the economy and the repayment of loans was postponed. Now, the conditions of Chinese and IMF credits have to be met, whilst the economy is hit by devaluation, debts and massive price rises for petrol and electricity, hitting the poor and the working class in particular, but also the middle classes and capitalist production.

Against this background, the power struggle between Khan and the parliamentary opposition was about to destabilise even further the political institutions and the country as a whole.

After a series of bold manoeuvres, including open breaches of the country's constitution and interference from both the military High Command and the chief of the secret service, ISI, Khan’s government was ended constitutionally, at least formally. Before the vote was passed, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Asad Qaiser (PTI) resigned, and the proceedings were handed over to Ayaz Sadiq (PML-N).

In the weeks before, Khan had tried to prevent the vote of no confidence, clearly breaching the country's constitution. In a meeting of the National Assembly on April 3, the law minister characterised the opposition’s no-confidence motion as part of a foreign conspiracy. This was accepted by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri who dismissed the no-confidence motion on that basis. In his TV address to the nation, he expressed his pleasure over the failure of the “conspiracy” and said that he had sent a request to the President to dissolve the Assembly, which the President immediately enacted, promising new elections.

The way the no-confidence motion was crushed shows that the contradictions of the ruling class cannot be resolved constitutionally. The military high command openly criticised Khan for his pro-Russian statements and attacks on the USA. The High Court, another powerful state institution, ruled that the rejection of the vote of no-confidence was unconstitutional and demanded the National Assembly be reconvened. The balance of power clearly shifted against the PTI government.

On the day of the vote in parliament, Khan was “visited” by the chiefs of the army and the ISI, who made it clear to him that he had to back down and stop resisting the handing over of governmental power in parliament. This was also backed by important sections of the capitalist class who called for a “stable” government that could address the coming economic catastrophe and end the political power struggle for the time being.

Clearly, it is highly questionable whether the new government will actually be able to overcome a growing crisis. What the whole political development proves, is that it is increasingly impossible to run the system in the old way anymore.

The record of Imran Khan’s government

For more than three years, Imran Khan's government was based on extreme tyranny and the government ruled by presidential ordinance rather than through parliament. He aimed to crush all opposition in the name of a campaign against “corruption”. This fraudulent “struggle” was the populist and increasingly Bonapartist cover for a policy in the name of the rich, with Khan clearly leaning more towards Chinese imperialism than the US as a guarantor of the future development of Pakistan. At the same time, it was under his rule that Pakistan had to take the biggest IMF package ever in its history.
Clearly, his government was an enemy of the working class and the poor. Its policies were handing over the Pakistani economy to Chinese capital and the IMF. They were impoverishing millions of workers and farmers and, at the same time, giving trillions of rupees to the capitalists. Large capitalist exporters benefited from the state packages and export stimuli during the pandemic. But the end of this short-lived growth bubble will make life miserable for the workers and the urban and rural poor and the storm of inflation has ruined their lives. As a result, the petty bourgeoisie, professionals and many working in the informal sector in the process of urbanisation were also largely ruined.

During Khan's years of government, the number of disappeared persons has increased, and they are accused through vile propaganda. Those resisting terrorism and national oppression have been denied access to justice, lost their jobs and faced violence and even assassination attempts. A vicious campaign was launched against the Pashtun Protection Movement and the Aurat march women were accused of blasphemy. The government was not ready to tolerate any kind of criticism and Imran Khan wanted to become a dictator over the existing system. For some time, he had the full support of the military leadership.

Faced with a developing historic economic crisis, however, his government became useless to the bourgeoisie and its popularity among the working class and other strata plummeted. He tried to find support from Russia, where Putin's model offered an alternative to the United States and Europe, with its attacks on all kinds of democratic freedoms and use of war to overcome its crisis.
The war in Ukraine is the result of the escalation of imperialist contradictions and it is once again dividing the world into camps. In the current situation, because of Pakistan's trade links and deals with the IMF and the problems of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, a large section of the ruling class prefers to be affiliated with the US camp. The end of Imran Khan's rule is a result of this contradiction, which made him a burden for the ruling class.

The failure of Imran Khan's project is also the failure of the generals. It is good that a government hostile to the labourers and poor has come to an end. But the opposition, despite its talk of respecting democracy, must not be trusted either. It will not mark a fundamental break with the capitalist and pro-imperialist politics of the Khan government. It will try to blame the failure of his government to address the economic crisis as an excuse for austerity, cuts, privatisations and to make the masses pay for the crisis. It is clear that the new government will repress and attack mass resistance and strikes against social attacks, it will scrap democratic and trade union rights, where needed. It will continue to strangle the rights of women, national and religious minorities. And it will continue to base itself on a state apparatus controlled by the army and the ISI. That is why we must not have any illusions in the new government introducing democratic freedoms.

Those liberals and leftists who claim that the ousting of Khan and the election of the new government constitute a victory for democracy are mistaken. In reality, it was a fight within the ruling class in which one faction won for the time being.

Where now?

Imran Khan and his party are presenting this situation as an American conspiracy. He and his supporters have announced resignations from the assemblies and a movement against the new government even though it has not yet been formed.
Yesterday's protests by the PTI made it clear that stability is not possible so soon.

Important sections of the ruling class are terrified of this situation as Pakistan's economy is facing a dilemma at the moment. They believe that the new government will be better able to prevent catastrophe in this situation. They hope it will be possible to negotiate better terms with the IMF so that the profits of this capital will be restored. But, as PML-N leader Miftah Ismail has said, the government will have to take difficult decisions to resolve this crisis.

In the immediate term, it might try to appease the masses by some concessions such as the increase of the minimum wage to 25.000 rupees per month announced by Shehbaz Sharif or increases of military and civilian pensions by 10 %. But this will be too little to compensate even for the loss of income as a result of massive inflation over the last three years.

In these circumstances, the left and the labour movement should refuse any support to the new government. The struggle for democratic freedoms needs to be expanded and the democratic struggle must be linked to the struggle against economic crisis and attacks on workers. Likewise, we need to fight against the campaigning of the right wing populist PTI and Imran Khan, combining anti-Americanism and social demagogy with a right wing, authoritarian agenda directed against the working class and the socially oppressed.

To build up an alternative to the new government and its backers in the elite, as well as to the right-wing populist PTI, the left, the trade unions, the women’s movement, students and the nationally oppressed need to combine their forces around an action programme of demands including: a minimum wage sufficient to cover the cost of living, a sliding scale of wages and pensions; free social services, education and health for all; for price control committees against making workers and the poor pay; for the cancellation of debts and the expropriation of large scale capital and financial institutions in order to centralise the funds for an emergency plan against the crisis.

Clearly such a programme, which makes the imperialists and the Pakistani ruling class pay, will be met with outright hostility and attacks from all imperialist powers, old and new, from the new government as well as from the fake PTI opposition. Such a movement can be built in the workplaces, in the working class areas, in town and countryside by building action committees to organise the struggle with strikes, pickets, mass demonstrations and by organising self-defence if attacked.

All those who support such a course of action must not only take the initiative for a united front for a workers' answer to the crisis – they must also take the initiative to create a political instrument of the working class, a working class party, which combines the struggle against the impending catastrophe with the struggle for a socialist revolution in Pakistan and beyond.