Pakistan is facing its worst economic and political crisis in decades, as violent protests erupt across the country following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on corruption charges. Khan’s supporters have clashed with police and set fire to vehicles and buildings, demanding his release and calling for fresh elections.
The political turmoil comes at a time when Pakistan is running out of foreign exchange reserves, struggling with soaring inflation and food shortages, and facing a stalled $6.5 billion IMF bailout programme that is expiring in June. Analysts say the unrest is eroding hopes that the country can get its much-needed financial assistance and avoid a default on its debt obligations.
The IMF has said it is ready to help Pakistan, but it requires a credible plan of policies and financing that can address the country’s balance of payment problems. However, the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been unable to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF, such as raising taxes, cutting subsidies and devaluing the currency.
Sharif’s government is also in a constitutional standoff with the Supreme Court, which has ordered it to hold local elections in Punjab province by mid-May. The government has refused to comply, risking a confrontation with the judiciary that could trigger a political crisis. The Supreme Court has previously sacked two prime ministers for defying its orders.
The political uncertainty has also strained relations between the civilian government and the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history. Khan’s arrest came a day after the military issued a rare statement denouncing him for making allegations against a serving officer. Khan had accused the military of being behind his ouster and interfering in politics.
The security situation in Pakistan has also deteriorated, as Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on security forces and civilians. The government has announced a nationwide operation to root out the extremists, but analysts say it will be difficult to achieve without political stability and economic recovery.
Pakistan is facing a critical juncture in its history, as it tries to cope with multiple challenges that threaten its stability and prosperity. The fate of the country depends on how its leaders can resolve their differences and work together for the common good.