If this is history repeating itself with the military’s assertiveness, it’s not looking good for Imran Khan, his party, or for Pakistan’s democracy.
Madiha Afzal is a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. She was previously the David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Foreign Policy program. Her work focuses on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan’s politics and policy, and extremism in South Asia and beyond. She previously worked as an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Afzal is the author of “Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State,” published by the Brookings Institution Press in 2018 (the book was also published in South Asia and Afghanistan by Penguin India). Afzal has also published several journal articles, book chapters, policy reports, and essays. In addition, she writes for publications including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, Dawn, and Newsweek. She is regularly interviewed by media outlets including BBC, NPR, and PBS. In addition, she has consulted for international organizations including the World Bank and UK’s Department for International Development. For her writing on education in Pakistan, she was named to Lo Spazio della Politica’s list of “Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2013.” Afzal received her doctorate in economics from Yale University in 2008, specializing in development economics and political economy.
Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP), fellow
Institute for Economic and Development Alternatives, Pakistan (IDEAS), fellow
- David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Foreign Policy Program, The Brookings Institution
- Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy Program, Global Economy and Development Program, The Brookings Institution
- Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
- Nonresident Fellow, The Brookings Institution
- Consultant, The World Bank
- Research Fellow, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland
- Adjunct Professor, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University
- Visiting Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
- Ph.D., Economics, Yale University
- M.Phil., Economics, Yale University
- M.A., Economics, Yale University
- B.Sc. (Honors), Economics, Lahore University of Management Sciences
Media and Appearances
[The military’s] veneer of invincibility [has been cracked in the last 48 hours. But the army warned Wednesday that further attacks would be] severely retaliated against. It is still the most powerful institution in Pakistan, and will not let go of that position easily.
Khan’s arrest by paramilitary forces – and the manner of the arrest, with dozens of forces in riot gear – is not about any corruption case against Khan, as was the pretext for the arrest, but should be seen in the context of his recent comments against officials in the military and intelligence services. Those comments seem to have been the military’s ‘red line.’ Khan’s popular support has protected him against the [military] establishment over the last year; but now that the establishment has asserted itself, it’s hard to see it backing down, and difficult to see how the situation will deescalate. This is a very dangerous development.
It’s hard to see how the situation de-escalates from here. Khan’s popular support has protected him against the establishment’s assertiveness until now. But now that the establishment has asserted itself, it’s hard to see it backing down anytime soon. Volatile, dangerous times [are] ahead for Pakistan.
[Regarding fears that the political unrest in Pakistan could lead to a dramatic, anti-democratic intervention, such as a military coup,] it’s hard to see how the political situation deescalates now; this is a very dangerous development and dashes any hopes for Pakistan’s political stability.
[Imran Khan’s arrest is] about Khan crossing the military’s ‘red line’ with his recent comments against officials in the military and intelligence services. It is about Khan’s escalating confrontation with the military establishment over the last year, and the fact that the latter sees Khan as an existential threat.
[The clashes between institutions in Pakistan is expected to escalate, with judiciary, politics and constitutional crises becoming immersed with the financial breakdown.] I see the crisis as one that is deepening, and it is very difficult to see a way out. All Pakistan’s institutions are muddied — the military, the legislature and civilian government, the judiciary. The military and judicial branches are both completely politicized and polarizing; they don’t have the trust of the people, and they can’t pull Pakistan out of the current crisis. [The current government is taking tough financial measures in a bid to revive an IMF bailout.] The state is playing a heavy hand with the opposition. In the meantime, while these institutions play their political games, the common man is dealing with backbreaking inflation, 46% [on an annual level] last week. The only way out is elections, which are to be held sometime this year; and these elections must be free and fair, without sidelining the current opposition.
[Many countries view the world as increasingly multipolar and are seeking to diversify their diplomatic ties.] They don’t see this world now as being led by China or led by the U.S. only. It benefits them to have relationships on both sides. [Further, harsh U.S. criticism of other countries’ relationships with China could backfire. The U.S.-China competition for allegiance might also] grant undue leverage [to the more powerful countries that resist taking sides.]
[Even while it does not run the country directly, the army is understood to be Pakistan’s most powerful institution.] Since 2008, the military has been content to run things behind the scenes and that is continuing through the country’s current set of crises.