Pakistan’s Prime Minister Dissolves Parliament to Prevent His Removal From Power

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 no-confidence votes in Parliament that would have unseat him. However, his allies stopped 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.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

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 defended his actions, claiming they blocked what he described to be a plot by the United States against him. This is Imran Khan speaking last Wednesday.

PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: [translated]This is a major conspiracy, not against Imran Kan but against Pakistan. Slowly, people are starting to realize what a massive conspiracy is taking place. This has been happening since October by all the traitors who have been robbing Pakistan for the past 35 year. They were working with external forces. Let me now call America. This conspiracy was orchestrated with America. But I want to find out: What is America doing against me? I have never been anti American.

AMY GOODMAN:Last week, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, spoke out. The Biden administration denies 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 a member of the Asma Jahangir Foundation’s board and a council member of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission.

Munizae Jahangir, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s an honor to have you with us. You could start by explaining, especially to an audience unfamiliar with Pakistani politics how important what is happening in Pakistan right at the moment.

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR:First, thank you for having me on your program. It is an 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.

Since his election, Pakistan has seen a very high level of inflation, between 13 and 15%, which is double the rate of inflation. Unemployment is on the 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 for the vote of confidence to be carried 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.

After saying that, the prime minister disbanded the Assembly. Now, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken over the entire matter. 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. The Supreme Court is now faced with this question.

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.

On the other hand, our courts have a terrible history. They have always supported 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. His entire rule was illegal. This is now considered the moment of glory for the Supreme Court. If you forget that, you can see the history of Pakistan’s courts. They have always sided with the establishment.

All eyes are now on Supreme Court and what the Supreme Court decides. We will wait to see if the Supreme Court will restore the assemblies as they were before the prime Minister dissolution. 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:You also mentioned the court’s political role. Imran Khan tapped Gulzar Ahmed, former Chief Justice, Monday to be his 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. That is why he named this particular chief justice. That is how it is being viewed here.

However, there have been rumors of a technocratic government emerging in Pakistan. It is believed that the politicians would be pushed out and that a technocratic government would emerge in Pakistan. People in Pakistan and Pakistani politicians are skeptical about what will happen. They doubt whether there will be early elections, if the assemblies will be reorganized, and if there will be a new setup of technocrats. They will do whatever the military wants.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Pakistan’s relations with Russia? You know, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, met Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 24, the same day that Russia invaded 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, he also spoke out about the meeting. 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? Can you speak a bit about the tense relationship and murky relationship between Pakistani and Taliban during 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. Imran Khan always saw it that way. And that, now that the Americans are gone, the Taliban have moved into, the legitimate people have taken control of the West foreign invaders. He said this because he believed it.

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 for talks with 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 believe he is speaking 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. He is also conservative-minded. He is seen to have supported the right-wing agenda for 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:Munizae, last minute, we have you. If you are able to talk about what your predictions are, 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. It doesn’t matter what happens.

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. He believes most of what 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.

Now let’s return to Pakistan. If they follow the law, the motion to vote of no confidence was thrown out by the speaker. In which case, the assemblies will be restored. We will return to the situation that existed before the 3rd April, when the motion for vote of no confidence was presented before the house to be voted on. This is just one scenario.

The second scenario is that they will compromise and say the speaker was illegal and unconstitutional, but they will be moving towards early elections. They will allow early elections to take place in the country and will not say anything about the fate of 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.

We are now looking at elections in the next few months, regardless of which way we go. Before the vote of no confidence was cast, there was discussion that there would be an interim arrangement in Pakistan. After that interim setup, there will then be elections and a caretaker. Now, in that interim setup, there would be everybody, all allies, except for Imran Khan’s party. They would also make electoral reforms that are essential to hold free and fair elections for Pakistan. Then, they would move on to a caretaker government 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 Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission.