The recent arrest of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan on corruption charges has led to widespread protests nationwide.. The arrest, which took place on May 9th, was met with outrage from Khan’s supporters, who believe that he is being targeted for political reasons. Khan, hugely popular in Pakistan, has faced numerous charges since he was ousted from office last year. However, his arrest has sparked some of the largest protests the country has seen recently, with demonstrators taking to the streets to demand his release. The protests have been marred by violence by the military, with reports of clashes between the army and protesters in several cities. To add more fuel to the fire, social media websites have been blocked to prevent inciting unrest.
The situation in Pakistan remains tense, with both sides digging in their heels. However, this brings a vital facet of Pakistan’s political instability into the light – is this really a fight between a political leader and the government, or is this yet another chance for the military to establish its ground in another Islamic country?
Pakistan’s civil and political landscape has, for time immemorial, been following the same pattern. Since 1947, in its seventy-six-year existence as an independent country, Pakistan has spent several decades under military rule (1958 – 1971, 1977 – 1988, 1999 – 2008). While its more prominent neighbor India, since its independence in 1947, continues to function as a democracy (except for two years of emergency rule under Indira Gandhi during 1975 — 1977). For the most part, Pakistan has been a failure in this experiment. Whenever democracy has emerged in Pakistan, it has remained fragile and short-lived as Pakistani generals refused to submit to civilian rule. The Praetorian regime has become a rule than an exception in Pakistan because of the military’s propensity to interfere in the country’s politics. As a result, the last few decades saw a quasi-democracy in which elected governments have been undermined, sabotaged, and destabilized by powerful but unelected and unaccountable state institutions, particularly the military and judiciary.
Even though there has not been a military coup in the country since 2008, none of the Prime Ministers, no matter the party in power, could complete their term in office. With Imran Khan now urging many devoted civilians through his party, the question of putting a genuinely representative and accountable government in power props up.
Like many Islamic states, Pakistan has struggled to establish democratic political institutions essential for a stable democracy due to frequent military interventions in its politics. Moreover, elected governments in Pakistan have been highly undemocratic in their functioning and have often been subservient to the military establishment because, in most cases, leaders’ survival has depended on their military ties.
Until 2013, power in Pakistan was shared between two dynastic parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif. So when Imran Khan rose to power with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), there was hope for a stable democracy with his promises of governance reforms.
However, in 2022, Imran Khan was removed from his position through a no-confidence motion by opposition parties, or perhaps the opposition parties masking a certain military leader named General Bajwa, who had a conflict with Khan. Khan’s dismissal from the position is a classic example of a leader mushrooming in Pakistan and trying to bring about a democratic shift in the country’s politics, but sadly, remaining amiss in hitting the mark due to military intrusion, leading to a shaky and fragile democracy in Pakistan.
The story in other Islamic states is no different, with leaders initially promising democracy immediately after gaining independence from imperialist powers falling prey to external imperialism due to military coups and counter-coups.
Whatever the truth may be, it is clear that Pakistan is facing a moment of reckoning. As Pakistani civilians continue to demand a stable and representative government, the question remains – will the country ever be able to establish democratic political institutions essential for a stable democracy, or will military interventions continue to sabotage its progress? The coming days and weeks will be critical in determining the country’s future direction and whether it can emerge more assertive and united from this crisis.