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Pakistan’s parliament adjourns debate on embattled premier

FILE – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan attends a military parade to mark Pakistan National Day, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. Pakistan’s prime minister, besieged by the opposition and abandoned by coalition partners, faces the greatest challenge of his political career on Thursday, March 31, as debate begins on a no-confidence vote.(AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday adjourned a debate on the political survival of Prime Minister Imran Khan after the opposition had called for a no-confidence vote on the embattled premier.

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Besieged by the opposition and abandoned by coalition partners, Khan faces the greatest challenge so far in his political career. The opposition accuses him of economic mismanagement and claims he is unfit for the role of prime minister.

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There was no immediate explanation for the adjournment of Thursday’s session, which was postponed within minutes of opening. Parliament was to reconvene on Sunday to begin the debate.

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The actual vote on Khan, who was to address the nation later Thursday, was expected in three to seven days after the start of the debate.

Analysts have predicted that Khan would be ousted after a series of defections appear to have given his political opponents the 172 votes in the 342-seat house to push him out.

Khan came to power in 2018, promising to rid Pakistan of corruption even as he partnered with some of the country’s tainted old guard. He called them ‘electables’ — necessary to win elections because their wealth and vast land holdings guaranteed votes in large swaths of the country.

A former international cricket star turned politician, Khan has espoused a more conservative brand of Islam. He has also kept company with radical clerics, including Maulana Tariq Jameel, who once said that women in short skirts had caused the COVID-19 epidemic.

Still, Khan is credited with building the country’s foreign reserves, now over $18 billion. Remittances from Pakistanis living overseas was a whopping $29 billion in 2021, despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Khan’s reputation for fighting corruption has encouraged Pakistanis to send money home and he has also cracked down on the unofficial money transfer system, known as Hawala. However, the opposition blames him for high inflation and a weak Pakistani rupee.

His handling of the coronavirus pandemic brought him international praise. His implementation of so-called “smart” lockdowns that targeted heavily infected areas — rather than a nationwide shutdown — kept some of the country’s key industries such as construction afloat.

On Thursday, the leader of a key opposition party, Bilawal Bhutto, urged Khan to resign. “You have lost. . . You have only one option: Resign,” Bhutto said.

In recent days, Khan has turned to conspiracy theories to explain the challenge to his rule and has gone on national television to claim the opposition is in cahoots with a foreign government — a reference to the United States — to unseat him.

Khan’s often-stated opposition to Washington’s so-called ’war in terror” as well as the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan has brought him popularity at home.

He has tried to reach out to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, fostered close ties to China and Russia and abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote condemning Russian for invading Ukraine.

Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution blamed Khan’s political woes on his confrontational style and a cooling of relations between him and the powerful military, widely reported to have assisted Khan’s election victory in 2018.

Pakistan’s army has been the country’s de facto ruler more than half of its 75-year history — even when governments are democratically elected, the military maintains considerable control from behind the scenes, despite their claims of neutrality.

In a Brookings Institution podcast, Afzal said it’s rare for a Pakistani political leader to finish his term. “This is part of a much larger, longer cycle that reflects on Pakistan’s built-in political instability,” she said.

“Essentially, opposition parties don’t wait for elections to occur, for the previous party to be voted out, or for the prime ministers to be ousted from power,” Afzal added. “While the military says that it is neutral in this situation, in this political crisis, what many read that as saying is that the military has basically withdrawn its support from Khan.”

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Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Kathygannon

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

AP

MARCH 31, 2022

https://apnews.com/article/covid-business-health-religion-pakistan-b865fd010da71d5d81c3f83674056b27

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