Imran Khan’s dramatic move to dissolve Pakistan’s parliament on Sunday morning, ahead of a vote that almost certainly would have removed him from office, reads to many like the desperate actions of a prime minister who will try to hold on to power at any cost.
While his repeated allegations of a “foreign conspiracy” and pressure from the US being behind the no-confidence vote has played well to his diehard supporters, most of whom are vehemently opposed to the west, it is still a very risky move for Khan.
He has lost almost all of his powerful allies and cuts an increasingly isolated figure in Pakistani politics.
Khan’s former ally, the powerful army military establishment – who like to maintain a facade of having little to do with politics in Pakistan despite wielding vast influence – took the unusual step of clearly stating they had nothing to do with his decision and even criticised the unilateral dissolution of parliament.
The deputy attorney general also resigned, unable to defend Khan, and more members of Khan’s coalition defected to the opposition in protest.
The vital next step now lies with the supreme court to decide if Khan has violated the constitution and if the no-confidence vote should proceed. While Pakistan’s judiciary has long been seen as pro-establishment and their independence repeatedly called into question, the mood in Islamabad appears to have shifted notably against Khan and many believe the court will rule against him.
While it is unclear what Khan’s approach will be if the no-confidence vote goes ahead, many fear it will lead to mass arrests of opposition politicians to try to bring the numbers back into Khan’s favour.
Even if the parliament dissolution is upheld, the move still puts Khan in a considerably weakened position to fight an election in the next 90 days. It has further united and galvanised the opposition coalition, while alienating more members of his own increasingly fragile ruling coalition.
Claims of a western conspiracy are unlikely to save his skin with voters, who are suffering from record-high inflation and an economic crisis.
But for many in Islamabad, it is the growing spectre of interference from a military that has a long and chequered history of seizing power in such moments of turmoil that is the most worrying development of all.
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