Pakistan army chief meets PM Khan amid impasse over no-confidence vote

by Will Tubbs

 

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Saturday met Prime Minister Imran Khan amid an impasse over a parliamentary vote to oust the premier, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The meeting comes hours after parliament was abruptly adjourned before the vote that Khan was widely expected to lose.

Khan’s allies blocked a no-confidence motion last week and dissolved the lower house of parliament, but Pakistan’s top court on Thursday ordered that the vote be held by Saturday.

It is yet to happen, despite nearly 12 hours passing since the session started on Saturday.

Members of Khan’s party had suggested on Friday they would try to delay the vote for as long as possible. They have said there is a foreign conspiracy to oust him.

The cricket star turned politician has vowed to “struggle” against any move to replace him.

Before Saturday’s session was adjourned, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, expected to become prime minister if Khan is ousted, urged lower house Speaker Asad Qaiser to ensure the vote was carried out as a matter of priority.

The speaker said he would implement the court order “in true letter and spirit”.

Khan, 69, surged to power in 2018 with the military’s support, but recently lost his parliamentary majority when allies quit his coalition government.

Opposition parties say he has failed to revive an economy battered by COVID-19 or fulfil promises to make Pakistan a corruption-free, prosperous nation respected on the world stage.

NO ‘IMPORTED GOVERNMENT’

The opposition and some analysts say Khan has fallen out with the military, a charge he and the military deny. The army has ruled the state for half its 75-year post-colonial history, and no prime minister has completed a full five-year term.

Khan, who enjoyed widespread popular support when he took office, said late on Friday he was disappointed with the top court ruling but accepted it. But he said he would not recognize any opposition government that replaced him.

“I will not accept an imported government,” he told the nation in a late-night address, suggesting the move to oust him was part of a foreign conspiracy and calling for peaceful protests on Sunday. “I’m ready for a struggle.”

Khan has accused the United States of supporting a plot to oust him, without offering evidence of his claim, which Washington has dismissed. He opposed the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan and has developed relations with Russia since becoming prime minister.

As the turmoil continued, Pakistan’s rupee hit all-time lows on Thursday and foreign exchange reserves tumbled. The central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by 2.5 percentage points, the biggest hike since 1996.

If Khan loses the no-confidence vote, the opposition will put forward a candidate for prime minister.

Sharif, the younger brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said after the court ruling that the opposition had nominated him to take over should Khan be ousted.

Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters

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