The Platform

Imran Khan, Pakistan's former prime minister. (Awais Khan/Shutterstock)

In 2018, Pakistan witnessed the rise of Imran Khan who vowed to halt dynastic politics, end corruption, and boost the economy. Pakistanis, especially the youth, saw Khan as their only ray of hope. And he promised a new and prosperous Pakistan “Naya Pakistan” with the creation of 10 million new jobs.

But nothing of this sort happened in his almost 4 years in power. Imran Khan, the now-former prime minister, just turned out to be a disappointment. Pakistan was pushed into a constitutional crisis after Khan avoided a no-confidence vote which was initiated jointly by various opposition parties. In response, Khan claimed that a “foreign conspiracy” was being hatched by the United States to overthrow his government over its “independent” foreign policy. Khan’s claim was disputed by the military.

To prove his point, Khan labeled a cable written by a Pakistani diplomat based in Washington, which is a routine matter, as a threatening letter written by the U.S. Khan was trying to portray himself as a martyr while deflecting people’s attention away from his failures. Let’s have a look at where Imran Khan failed his people.

Economic collapse. Pakistan has been suffering from record inflation – the fourth highest in the world, ballooning foreign debt, and a rapidly depreciating rupee. The increasing cost of living, unemployment, and increase in utility charges has made the life of ordinary people harder with each passing day. While depleted foreign exchange reserves put pressure on the rupee and eroded market confidence, inflation became a politically explosive issue for Khan. Unrestrained subsidy schemes and Khan’s “give-away” populist schemes also contributed to the economic crisis. Both internal and external debt rose exponentially with public debt spiking to over 90% of GDP.

Lack of good governance. The running of a coalition government involves humility, consensus building, and addressing the grievances of allies. Instead, Imran Khan chose to govern without consensus, ignoring the country’s federal and parliamentary realities. This was compounded by the intensely personalized nature of his governance in which power was concentrated with one person. Khan made key decisions on his own rather than on the basis of well-considered advice.

Undermining of state institutions. Khan misused government institutions, especially the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to target key opposition figures like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari. NAB cases against opposition figures were expected to destroy their reputations and political standing but the one-sided nature of accountability and lack of court convictions left the process in disrepute.

Damaged foreign relations. Khan damaged foreign relations built over decades just for getting minor mileage in domestic politics. For example, Pakistan’s relations with France and the European Union sunk significantly. Khan’s government signed a deal with Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, the hard-line Islamist group, agreeing to endorse a boycott of French products and making a move in parliament to expel the French ambassador. In addition, Khan consistently argued that there was a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power. This irked Washington and damaged relations with the U.S.

Relations with Army. After an initial period of cordial ties, civil-military relations reached new lows. But civil-military relations became uneasy over the appointment of a new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief and disagreements over governance and foreign policy issues. Miranda Hussein, a political analyst based in Lahore, said that the establishment and Khan were not on the same page, and this is illustrated by disagreements over the war in Ukraine and relations with the U.S.

Imran Khan continued to behave like a leader in opposition blaming all of Pakistan’s problems on past regimes rather than taking some responsibility. Khan’s government believed in running away from challenges and creating distractions to divert the attention of Pakistanis. Rather than fixing the problems faced by the country, the now-former prime minister spent more time delivering morality lectures and religious sermons like a mullah. Certainly, Imran Khan knew that there was no conspiracy against him. But much like Donald Trump, he is trying to build this narrative to fuel his support base into believing he has been the victim of a foreign plot so that he can portray himself as a martyr.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.