For days, Khan tried to block the no-confidence vote by trying to make it a national security issue and claiming that the United States had hatched a plot for regime change. He dissolved parliament, ordered an investigation into alleged US involvement in Pakistani politics and bowed to a new election. But this offer was rejected by the Supreme Court, which ordered the holding of the vote of no confidence.
The military pressured Khan to resign, but he refused, and the administration eventually cleared the vote just before the midnight deadline. Khan did not face the proceedings in person, instead fleeing to his private residence in the hills outside Islamabad and leaving the prime minister’s lush official residence empty for its next occupant. This is likely to be Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), a centre-right pro-business party named after his older brother, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The young Sharif, 70, has been an active provincial administrator and represents Pakistan’s old guard of patronage-based politics that Khan has campaigned against for years. He speaks several languages, is an avid swimmer and is seen as a political pragmatist, a trait that could help him survive the turbulent and interventionist waters of the ubiquitous “deep state” that is the Pakistani military. But he has no federal experience.
Sharif has his work cut out for him. As he assembles a broad coalition of liberal, nationalist and religious parties to govern Pakistan until the next election, the world’s fifth largest country – nuclear-armed, debt-ridden, plagued by terror and plagued with inflation – is in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world. Pakistan shares long borders with Afghanistan, India and Iran, and has difficult relations with all three. Meanwhile, it shares only a short border with its only ally, China, and must now re-establish ties with its former partner, the United States.
Even before Khan’s allegations, bilateral relations between Washington and Islamabad had suffered, particularly after the return of the Islamabad-backed Taliban regime to Afghanistan.
“The departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has left U.S.-Pakistan relations unanchored because Washington has long viewed U.S. relations with Pakistan through the lens of Afghanistan,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for the South Asia at the Wilson Center. “With Afghanistan in the rear-view mirror, US-Pakistan relations found themselves unstable and adrift.”
For decades, Pakistan has played a balancing act between its Cold War-era partner, the United States, and its “iron brother,” China. But Islamabad’s constant coverage of Afghanistan – siding with the United States for diplomatic and defense support while helping the Taliban wield strategic influence in the war-torn country – has prompted Washington to chill its ties. with the Islamic Republic. In the space of a decade, it went from being a major non-NATO ally under the George W. Bush administration to a near pariah during the Obama years, which have been highlighted by the killing of Osama bin Laden on his mainland in 2011. As US military equipment and funding were withdrawn, China stepped in, filling Pakistan’s security and economic gaps in the 2010s.
But now Pakistan’s Westernized military elite is seeking to reset itself with Washington. Unlike Khan, the powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, a graduate of American and Canadian military colleges, signaled his pro-Washington intentions by condemning Russia, proposing interconnection with India and not relying not only on China.
To reconnect with America, “the Pakistani military and intelligence services seem prepared for a transactional relationship that meets the interests of each party,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, who is now director for Asia. South and Central at the Hudson Institute.
These signals should send a clear message to Sharif, who understands that foreign policy has long been the purview of Pakistani generals, not prime ministers. Khan tried to change that and failed, so Sharif will know how to stay in his lane. Seizing the country’s heavy economic reins will be hard enough, and he knows what he’s up against: on the eve of Khan’s ouster, with the stock market crashing and perpetually bankrupt, Pakistan was waiting for a new deal with the IMF, Sharif tweeted that “markets hate instability,” but he has so far refrained from making policy announcements.
But even if Sharif sticks to the rules – leaving diplomacy to the brass – he and the generals will struggle because Khan’s anti-American rhetoric has created another problem. “Now a Pakistani civilian government trying to improve ties with the United States runs the risk of being accused in Pakistan of being US agents,” warned Haqqani, who himself has been targeted by the government before. Pakistani military with unproven treason charges for its proximity to Washington. .
But Pakistani leaders have yet to move forward. “Realism demands that you pick up the pieces and start to rebuild,” said former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who is in the running to become the country’s next top diplomat. With the United States, “we’ve had reduced bandwidth since leaving Afghanistan… so really [is] it is time to see how to advance bilateral relations in a win-win manner,” she explained.
Reducing tensions in foreign affairs in general, Khar added, would give Pakistan “the chance to strengthen itself internally rather than getting bogged down in managing contentious relations.”