Pakistan in free fall: What does it mean for India?

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters


After being turned out of office last April, Imran Khan and his PTI party have worked ceaselessly to take on the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest triggered a wave of protests across Pakistan, culminating in the Supreme Court ordering his release. Mint breaks down what the political crisis means for Pakistan and whether it will impact India.

What is Pakistan’s political crisis about?

After being turned out of office last April, Imran Khan and his PTI party have worked ceaselessly to take on the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan also clashed repeatedly with Pakistan’s military, often the ultimate power-broker in the country. In the last year, devastating floods and a major economic crisis have made Prime Minister Sharif’s government very unpopular. The military’s clashes with Khan also painted the armed forces in an unflattering light. Khan, arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, has called for fresh elections, which he believes will return him to power.

What’s behind Khan’s arrest?

Khan was arrested on charges of corruption in a money laundering case involving one of Pakistan’s biggest real estate barons. The arrest triggered a wave of protests, which led to eight deaths and over 1,000 arrests. Protestors attacked military properties, including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Sharif warned that protests would be dealt with firmly. The military, incensed at the attacks on its properties, also warned of dire consequences. According to the Pakistani media, the government has approved the deployment of the army to pacify the capital city of Islamabad and the provinces.

What happens next in Pakistan?

Khan is being questioned by the National Accountability Bureau, which purports to work as an anti-corruption watchdog. Senior leaders of his party have also been arrested. The deployment of the army may be aimed at stabilizing the domestic situation, but a longer-term fix to the grievances of the protestors does not seem to be in the works.

What lies ahead for Pak politics?

Some believe the crisis triggered by Khan’s arrest may prove a watershed moment in the country’s politics. The military, which has pulled the strings from behind the scenes for decades, is now openly working against a popular national politician. This has earned it considerable criticism. Further, experts say divisions may have emerged in the army over Khan. The fact that Prime Minister Sharif was missing in action as the crisis erupted, is unlikely to do his approval ratings much good.

Will this crisis impact India?

Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran suggests Pakistan’s domestic troubles may trigger more activity across the Line of Control. Recent terrorist attacks in Kashmir have dialled up tensions. At the end of the day, New Delhi has little control over which group comes out on top. It is unclear if the bilateral relationship, on the rocks for some time, will fundamentally change — regardless of who takes power in Islamabad. Divides over Kashmir and cross-border terrorism make a rapprochement unlikely.

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