The Comeback Kid

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Tens of thousands of Pakistanis attended a recent rally in support of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore. A former jet-setting cricket star who allied with religious conservatives, Khan told his supporters that he was the victim of a US-led conspiracy that was in retaliation for Pakistan’s improving relations with Russia and China. As the BBC explained, nonpartisan experts have disputed those claims even as his followers wholeheartedly believed them.

Elected in 2018, Khan lost a no-confidence vote earlier this month after he attempted to illegally dissolve parliament to stop the vote, Nikkei Asia reported. Since then, he has doubled down on blaming the US for the debacle and also demanded that the new government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif calls for elections immediately, Agence France-Presse added, presumably because he thinks he could win office again if given a chance.

“Pakistan became an independent state in 1947 but the freedom struggle begins again today against a foreign conspiracy of regime change,” Khan tweeted after he left office, according to Foreign Policy magazine, whose writer worried aloud about the nationalism and division that Khan was sowing at his events.

Sharif, meanwhile, is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who served as prime minister three times. As the New York Times wrote, he, like other family members, has been dogged by accusations and investigations of graft and malfeasance.

Meanwhile, Sharif’s political honeymoon fell prey to an absurd political controversy: the emergence of a video of a singer serenading Sharif in his office. Released soon after he took office, the video made Sharif look aloof and indulgent, Agence France-Presse wrote. But it turned out the video was from a home event that occurred months before Sharif took office.

With one crisis averted, the new prime minister has turned to solving the worst economic crisis in Pakistan in years. Inflation is soaring, the Financial Times reported. Foreign debt is high, especially funds owed to China, which has funded massive projects in the South Asian country. The country is also negotiating the future of a $6 billion IMF aid package, as Reuters discussed. At the same time, Sharif is working hard to solicit more Chinese financing, as the South China Morning Post noted.

Khan left these problems to Sharif to solve. But Khan had inherited them, too, wrote Husain Haqqani, a Hudson Institute scholar and Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, in the Hill.

The Pakistani military, which plays an outsized role in the country’s politics, meanwhile, has largely stayed out of the politics, argued the Diplomat. That likely means they gave tacit approval to Khan’s ouster after falling out with him last year. Whether they take a more active role in the future remains an open question, however.

Whether or not Khan can precipitate a crisis depends on the resilience of Pakistan’s democracy. But with misery rising, democracy might just become an afterthought.

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