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Pakistan in Crisis After PM Imran Khan Dissolved Parliament & Accused U.S. of Plotting Regime Change

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Pakistan is facing a constitutional crisis after Prime Minister Imran Khan dissolved the country’s National Assembly and called for new elections in an effort to block an attempt to remove him from power. Khan was facing a no-confidence vote in Parliament that would have unseated him, but his allies blocked the vote from happening. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is now hearing a pivotal case on whether it was within the authority of the speaker of the National Assembly to reject the motion for a vote of no confidence, says Pakistani journalist Munizae Jahangir.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistan is facing a constitutional crisis after Prime Minister Imran Khan dissolved Pakistan’s National Assembly and called for new elections in an effort to halt an attempt to remove him from power. Opposition MPs were planning to hold a no-confidence vote in Parliament, but Khan’s allies blocked the vote from happening. Opposition lawmakers have accused Imran Khan of carrying out an “open coup against the country and the Constitution.” Pakistan’s Supreme Court is now weighing whether Khan’s moves were legal.

Imran Khan has defended his actions, saying they block what he described as a plot by the United States to remove him from power. This is Imran Khan speaking last week.

PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: [translated] This is a big conspiracy, not against Imran Khan but against Pakistan itself. Slowly people have started realizing what a big conspiracy has taken place, and it has been hatching since October by all these traitors who have been robbing the country for the past 35 years. They were doing it in league with external forces. Now, let me openly take the name of America. This conspiracy has been carried out in connivance with America. But I want to know: What does America have against me? I have never been anti-American.

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, speaking last week. The Biden administration has denied the allegations.

We go now to Islamabad, where we’re joined by Munizae Jahangir, a journalist and host of a political talk show on Pakistan’s leading news network, also editor-in-chief of the digital media platform Voicepk.net. She’s the daughter of the pioneering Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, who died in 2018. Munizae is on the board of the Asma Jahangir Foundation and a council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Munizae Jahangir, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s an honor to have you with us. Can you start off by just laying out, especially for an audience not familiar with Pakistani politics, how significant what is happening in Pakistan is right now?

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: Well, firstly, thank you so much for having me on your show. It is a real honor to be here.

Now, to tell you what exactly is happening in Pakistan — and it’s always very difficult to describe to people what is happening in Pakistan — Imran Khan was elected in 2018. He was widely accused by the opposition at that time that he was “selected.” They called him the selected prime minister because it was an accusation that the military had actually brought him in, that they had rigged the election and brought him in.

Now, during the time that he has been in power, there has been very high inflation in Pakistan, 13 to 15%, a double-digit inflation. Unemployment has been on its rise. And what he has really done is, you know, have corruption cases against — lodged corruption cases against most of his opponents. And none of these corruption cases could be, you know, in a way that when they went to court — when the corruption cases went to court, they could not really prove that these people had committed corruption, and therefore, the cases just remain there.

Now, during this time, the opposition got together and got the allies of Imran Khan, Imran Khan’s government, together, as well, because he was not having such a smooth relationship with his allies, and his government was a thin majority cobbled together with different allies. The allies came with the opposition, and they filed a no motion — a vote of no confidence, a motion of vote of no confidence, in the National Assembly. After that, the speaker allowed the vote of no confidence to move forward. But on the day of the voting, the speaker did not appear in the National Assembly, which is our main house — it’s like the Congress — and it was, in fact, the deputy speaker who came in and said all of those who are in the opposition — and there were 198 of them, including the allies — that they have been disloyal to the state of Pakistan.

And they quoted an Article 5, and they quoted — well, it was being widely understood and the prime minister had talked about this cable that had been received by the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, saying that they had a meeting with the U.S. under secretary of state, in which he said that if Imran Khan wins the no-confidence motion, then there will be dire consequences for Pakistan. And therefore, Imran Khan went on and said to the public that there is an American conspiracy against my government, and the person who is behind the Americans’ conspiracy and is with the Americans is, in fact, Nawaz Sharif, his main opponent in the Punjab.

So, after having said that, the Assembly was dissolved by the prime minister. Now the entire issue has gone to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. And the question before them is that whether it was in the jurisdiction of the speaker to, firstly, reject the motion of no confidence — how can he reject the notion of no confidence when it was there to be voted upon, either yes or no? — and, secondly, whether the prime minister in fact enjoyed the confidence of the very house that it dissolved. So, that is really the question before the Supreme Court today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Munizae Jahangir, I wanted to ask you — in terms of the role of the military, the military in Pakistan has always played an outsized role, often intervening in the political life of the country. If you’re saying that he was perceived as a candidate of the military, where does the military stand right now?

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: Well, it’s very interesting, because one of the things that the opposition kept saying when they were moving the vote of no confidence, and even before they moved the vote of no confidence, they kept saying the allies will come to us, will back us, once the military becomes “neutral.” Now, we do not know whether the military in fact has been neutral or has not been neutral, but it is very certain that those allies, who have always aligned with the military, have now joined the opposition, and the military is now being seen by the opposition as being neutral.

But on the other hand, the courts in our country have a very terrible history. They have always sided with the military. They have been a rubber stamp on all kinds of dictatorship and military intervention in Pakistan, except for the famous Asma Jilani case — you mentioned my mother — where one of the military dictators, Yahya Khan, was declared a usurper, and therefore, whatever came later was considered illegal. Whatever he did his entire rule was considered illegal. Now, that is considered the glorious moment of the Supreme Court. But if you set that aside and you look at the history of the courts in Pakistan, they have traditionally sided with the establishment.

Therefore, all eyes are now on the Supreme Court of what the Supreme Court decides. Whether it will restore the assemblies, before the prime minister dissolved them, and allow the vote of no confidence motion to go through, that is something that we will have to wait and see. But certainly, the Constitution of Pakistan is very clear, which is that the prime minister, who doesn’t have the majority in the house, who has lost the majority in the house, he cannot dissolve the Assembly, because he doesn’t command the majority of the house, in which case there were 198 legislators that went against him, when in fact they only needed 172.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the political role of the court. On Monday, Imran Khan named the former Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed for the office of caretaker prime minister. What’s behind that action of his?

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: Well, I think that he has just — this is the outgoing chief justice that he named, and he probably wanted to have some kind of influence with the Supreme Court, and therefore, he mentioned one of them, one of the outgoing Supreme Court judges. I think that is the reason why he named that particular chief justice. And that is how it is being seen here.

But having said that, there has also been talk of a technocratic government in Pakistan, that the politicians will be pushed out and there would be a technocratic government in Pakistan. So, people in Pakistan and politicians in Pakistan are very skeptical of what is really going to happen, whether there will be early elections, whether the assemblies will be restored, whether in fact another setup will come which will be of technocrats, and they will do as the military pleases.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Pakistan’s relations with Russia? I mean, the Prime Minister Imran Khan met with Vladimir Putin on February 24th in Moscow at the Kremlin on the same day Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Talk about the significance of this and the fact that all this is taking place against this backdrop of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: Well, absolutely. That’s one of the things that Prime Minister Imran Khan has said. He has said that “the reason that I am being ousted is because the Americans are upset with the way my country has aligned itself to China, with the way my foreign policy has aligned itself to Russia, and therefore, I am being ousted. And with the collaboration, with the conspiracy of the opposition, the Americans are moving this no-confidence motion.” He even went as far as saying that the dissidents who have deflected from his party to the opposition have met people within the American Embassy. So, he is building that narrative that he is anti-America, that he is pro-Russia, that he’s pro-China, that he’s aligning closer to these powers, and therefore, his country — his government is being voted out.

Now, regarding the meeting, he said something very important, as well. He said that “We had discussed this,” because he’s very close to the military. So, he said, “I had discussed my trip with the military of Pakistan, and they both — the civilian side and the military side both agreed that this was the right time to go to Russia. And after that is when I went to Moscow.” So he says he got the greenlight from the military, in fact, to travel to Moscow at the time that he did.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, in terms of — last August, after the Taliban overthrew the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, Imran Khan said that the change in regime had, quote, “broken the shackles of slavery.” What did he mean there? Could you talk a little bit about the tortured relationship and the murky relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban throughout the period of the War in Afghanistan?

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: Well, I think that one of the things that perhaps Imran Khan and the military agree with, and their thinking is around the same, is that they do believe that the Taliban in Afghanistan — and they see them as a legitimate political entity in Afghanistan, and the Americans are obviously seen as invaders. And Imran Khan has always seen it that way, and that now that the Americans have gone and the Taliban have moved in, that the genuine people have moved in and taken control from the Western foreign invaders. And that is why he said that.

So, there has been — I know Pakistan has been accused of having links with the Taliban, and, of course, they have had those links. And now Pakistan is being used to even talk to the Taliban. So, Imran Khan’s reasoning really is that Pakistan is being used to talk to the Taliban and everybody else is also talking to the Taliban, then why should we not say that these are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan? So I think he is saying it in that context.

But to give you a little bit of a background, Imran Khan has always been accused by his opponents of being called “Taliban Khan,” simply because he has not only supported the Taliban in Afghanistan but also has provided justification for the violence that they have leashed out in our country, in Pakistan. And he is seen to be conservative-minded. He is seen to be somebody who has supported the right-wing agenda in Pakistan. And he’s seen to be somebody who has always talked about the — and more and more, he’s done so more and more — about Islam in the state. So, he’s talked about Islam in politics, and he increasingly talks about Islam in politics. And he refers to all kinds of Islamic injunctions when he’s giving a speech. So, therefore, he is somebody who’s seen to be now more right-wing.

AMY GOODMAN: Last minute we have with you, Munizae, if you can talk about what you predict will happen? The Supreme Court adjourned until Wednesday the hearing to decide the legality of the prime minister’s blocking of the opposition ousting him, a dispute that, of course, has led to political turmoil in your country, in the nuclear-armed Pakistan. Either way it goes, what will happen?

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR: It’s very, very difficult to predict what is going to happen in Pakistan. But having said that — and I would just like to add one more thing. Also, Imran Khan’s views on women are very similar to the views the Taliban have on women. So he does believe most of the things that the Taliban say about women. And we’ve seen, you know, a manifestation. We’ve seen that when he’s given interviews to the Western press, as well.

But coming back to what is going to happen in Pakistan, well, if they follow the law and the Constitution, then what the speaker did, which was throw out the motion for vote of no confidence, would be deemed illegal and unconstitutional, in which case the assemblies will be restored. And we will go back to the situation which was before the 3rd of April, where the vote of no confidence was submitted before the house to be voted upon. That is one scenario.

The second scenario really is that they will take a middle ground, that they will say the speaker, whatever he did was unconstitutional and illegal, but they will move towards early elections, and they will allow the country to have early elections, and not say anything about what will happen to the assemblies.

And, of course, the third is that they say that whatever the speaker did was part of his — was allowed to him under his jurisdiction, and therefore, you know, we move towards elections.

So, either which ways, we are looking at elections in the next couple of months. In Pakistan, there was discussion before the vote of no confidence was thrown out that there is going to be an interim setup. And after that interim setup, there will be a caretaker and then elections. Now, in that interim setup, there would be everybody, all allies, except for Imran Khan’s party. And they would make some electoral reforms that are very necessary to hold free and fair elections in Pakistan, and then move on to a caretaker and then to elections. So, it’s anybody’s guess in what will happen in Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Munizae Jahangir, thank you so much for explaining it, journalist and host of a political talk show on Pakistan’s leading news network, also editor-in-chief of the digital media platform Voicepk.net. She also serves on the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

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