Pakistan's parliament has elected a new prime minister
DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:
Pakistan's turbulent politics took another turn today when the parliament elected a new prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif. It came after the former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence motion over the weekend. To tell us more and what this has to do with Washington is NPR's Diaa Hadid from Islamabad. Hi, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Daniel.
ESTRIN: Can we start with some background? What led up to Khan losing a vote of no confidence?
HADID: Right. Well, analysts say this all began after the army appeared to withdraw its support for Imran Khan. The army is Pakistan's most powerful institution, and it was widely seen as backing him. The army denies it's involved in politics. Regardless, it seems Khan's opponents saw that as a signal that they could make a bid for power. They got the numbers to muster a no-confidence vote. Khan tried to delay it, even dissolving parliament to stop it.
He argued this was a plot arranged by Washington with the help of his opponents to overthrow his regime. Khan alleges that's the case because he has navigated an independent foreign policy which included meeting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. Ultimately, the Supreme Court intervened, and Khan was ousted in the early hours of Sunday. Today parliament reconvened, and a new prime minister was appointed, Shahbaz Sharif. Have a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AYAZ SADIQ: Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif is declared to have been elected as the prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
ESTRIN: So who is Shahbaz Sharif?
HADID: Right. Well, Sharif belongs to the large PML-N party. It's very popular. It's also basically a vehicle for the Sharif dynasty. Sharif is the former chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's most powerful province. His brother, Nawaz Sharif, is a former prime minister. Shahbaz Sharif is seen as a competent technocrat, and he says he'll focus on the economic situation which has been unraveling. But he'll have to form a government out of his allies first, and they range from a religious party that's close to the Taliban and progressives. Ambitiously, he's also called for unity.
ESTRIN: So do I have this right - you have progressives partnering with a religious party close to the Taliban? Is unity even possible in that scenario?
HADID: It's unlikely. And consider that's just the government. The opposition now is Imran Khan, and he's framed his ouster as an existential threat to Pakistan itself. His lawmakers boycotted the vote in parliament. And even before that, his followers held mass spontaneous rallies. They were quite big. Have a listen to this one in Islamabad.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).
HADID: So I spoke to columnist and political analyst Fasi Zaka, and he says those numbers suggest bipartisanship is not on the table for now.
FASI ZAKA: I think that they've also been pretty encouraged by the kind of organic outpouring in the streets they saw in three, four major cities yesterday. And it's important to remember that that outpouring happened without the star power of Imran Khan.
HADID: And more protests are expected on Wednesday. More concerningly, some of Khan's followers have been chanting against the military, calling them thieves and traitors. And now we'll have to see how the army will respond.
ESTRIN: What does this mean for relations with the U.S. now that Khan is ousted?
HADID: Well, Sharif says he wants to have good relations with the West and so has the chief of army staff, and that's a signal they'll work to repair the damage made by Khan. But it also means that Khan will likely double down on these plot allegations and use them to whip up anti-American sentiment as a ballot box winner. And that could spin easily out of control, given that militant attacks are on the rise right now in Pakistan.
ESTRIN: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you.
HADID: Thank you, Daniel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.