In 2018, Imran Khan Niazi, the cricketing superstar-turned-politician, finally broke through and became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It was a position that some thought the charismatic Oxford-educated media star would never achieve. But Khan’s 2018 election victory came after a two-decade-long struggle, large portions of which were spent in the political wilderness. Following his victory, Khan promised a new era.

With an election campaign centred on populist, anti-corruption rhetoric, with a vow to usher in a “New Pakistan”, Imran Khan had promised his supporters “Tabdeeli” (change). His biggest challenge was to save an economy facing a balance of payments crisis. But in 2015, Khan’s campaign had promised that he’d rather die than seek an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

During his campaign, Khan had repeatedly vowed to root out corruption and lift people out of poverty as he promised a new and prosperous Pakistan with the creation of 10 million jobs. But a recent report has revealed that the value of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar has fallen by 30.5% in PM Imran Khan-led government’s tenure. Over the last 40 months, the rupee has witnessed massive depreciation. In August 2018, it was Rs 123 against the US dollar and in December 2021, it is Rs 177, a report in ‘The News’ said.   

Such myriad challenges facing Pakistan has meant that Khan’s tenure has been anything but smooth sailing. Critics charge that the Pakistan PM has presented one face to the world and a very different one within the nation. While portraying a progressive, and even endearing image of himself and the country during his foreign visits, the Imran Khan that Pakistanis see is of a different leader.

At speeches and public rallies, Khan is usually combative and often rails against previous governments, accusing them of corruption and bringing the country to the brink of disaster. The Khan government has been repeatedly accused of hounding its opponents but it itself insists that it has no role in anti-corruption cases. 

However, activists in Pakistan have said that there has been an insidious clampdown on freedom of expression and dissent since Imran Khan took power. According to BBC, Reporters without Borders has complained of an “alarming decline in the state of press freedom in Pakistan”. Activists have also stated that the government had been more oppressive than even its strongest critics had feared. They believe that Khan, who portrays himself as a “liberal”, has either been a willful participant in the crackdown or at worst, has just looked the other way and not tried to stop it. 

Among a recent slew of bizarre developments in Pakistan is the falling out between PM Imran Khan Niazi and his Army Chief over the appointment of a new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief. In 2018, following his victory, Khan had brushed off allegations that the country’s powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan on and off since independence, was interfering behind the scenes to the benefit of his PTI party. However, considering the historical imbalance between the civilian executive and the military establishment in Pakistan, some observers still remain deeply sceptical about who is calling the shots in the country. 

But in recent times, Imran Khan’s reported tussle with the army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has been the subject of TV news. To summarise, Khan wanted his rather politically useful ISI Chief, Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed, to continue, but the Army thought not. The Prime Minister wanted to exercise his prerogative to name the next Chief, the Army thought not. This tussle continued for over a month until the PM’s office finally issued a notification stating that after “a detailed consultative process”, the Prime Minister’s Office had appointed Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as the next Chief, but only after a month.

This has dented the image of the Pakistan Prime Minister. Khan now has an ISI head who is far from the supportive entity that was his predecessor, and an Army Chief more than unusually annoyed with him. As these indications are not good, it is being speculated just how long the premier would last, and who would be his successor, whether it’d be someone from his own party or members of his coalition. 

Pakistan’s depleting foreign relations 

Apart from all these issues, Pakistan has also seen a deterioration in its international relations. Apart from Turkey and China, Islamabad has managed to upset its very close allies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Back in 2020, after Saudi Arabia failed to stand with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi openly criticised Saudi Arabia for failing to allow OIC to stand against India on the Kashmir issue. 

Following Qureshi’s anger, Saudi Arabia demanded Pakistan an early repayment of a part of the $3 billion loans and even froze a $3.2 billion oil credit facility to Pakistan. Additionally, Pakistan displayed a tepid reaction to the UAE-Israel peace deal brokered by the US. Khan has rejected the possibility of establishing any relations with Israel, withering relations in the Gulf. 

What lies ahead for Imran Khan?

Now, according to the Singapore Post, what worries Imran Khan is the upcoming local elections in Punjab. It is due early next year. Results in Punjab will set the ball rolling for the big elections in 2023. The Pakistan army can play a big role in the upcoming elections, and if it does, the stage is set for a final showdown between the partners, the media outlet said. 

The third round of the tussle will tell who wins in the end. Therefore, the New Year will witness interesting turns in Pakistan, starting with the elections in Punjab, even though the country remains on the precipice of drowning in rising radicalism and financial debts.