Pakistan: ‘Imran Khan has been the beneficiary of hatred towards the ruling parties’

March 8, 2024
Ammar Ali Jan speaking
Ammar Ali Jan addressing an election rally. Photo: haqooqekhalq/Facebook

In the wake of Pakistan’s February 8 national elections, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) formed a coalition government, electing Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister on March 3.

The move has been met with mass street protests, and the party of former prime minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), branded the two parties “vote-thieves”, noting it won more seats than any other party despite a harsh military crackdown.

Green Left’s Federico Fuentes spoke to Pakistani socialist Ammar Ali Jan of the Haqooq-e-Khalq Party (People’s Rights Party, HKP) about this volatile situation. Ammar Ali Jan will speak at the upcoming Ecosocialism 2024 conference, in Boorloo/Perth, June 28–30.

* * *

What does the vote for the PTI reflect?

For the past 9–10 months, there has been a severe crackdown on Khan’s party based on a sedition case against some party leaders. When Khan was arrested on May 9, the Pakistani state accused his party of trying to incite a coup and attacking military installations. This has since become a cover for a widespread crackdown on political opponents, particularly those from PTI.

In effect, an undeclared ban was placed on PTI activities, which meant the party was not able to campaign in these elections. Furthermore, the Supreme Court and the Electoral Commission stopped Khan’s party from using its electoral symbol on the ballot paper.

This was important for two reasons: One, because of low literacy rates, symbols are very important when people come to vote; and two, because it meant all PTI candidates had to run as independents with a different symbol. This made it difficult to tell who was a PTI candidate.

These were the extraordinary circumstances under which the party had to conduct its elections campaign. And yet PTI emerged as the largest party in parliament.

Two things were very clear with these elections. The first was that people voted against the establishment and the military — they do not want the military to interfere in Pakistani politics.

Remember, [before falling out with the military] Khan was brought into power by the military. During that time he governed with the military’s support, he lost several by-elections to opposition figures because the mood of the people was anti-establishment and anti-military.

In the past five years we have seen a clear trend of people voting against anybody who aligns too closely with the military.

The second thing was the impact of the economic crisis. Back when Khan was in power, the opposition parties — the PML-N and PPP — criticised him for high inflation and selling the country out to the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. Khan’s popularity was undermined by the high inflation and unemployment that Pakistan suffered from 2018‒22.

But when the vote of no confidence [against Khan] happened in [April] 2022, and the PML-N and PPP came to power, what we got was neoliberalism on steroids. By liberalising price structures, prices doubled and in some cases quadrupled. Food inflation reached about 40% and hunger became a very real concern.

On top of that, we had the devastating floods of August–September 2022. Despite that climate catastrophe, neither the IMF nor PML-N/PPP politicians pursued any structural changes to the economic system. Instead, the IMF demanded even harsher austerity from the government after the floods, which was when the government liberalised fuel prices.

Yet they refused to touch the elite’s subsidies: According to the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], US$17.4 billion is given away annually in subsidies to the country's elites. This at a time when 40% of the country lives below the poverty line.

This kind of punishing economic system fuelled hatred against the ruling parties — and Khan was the beneficiary of this anger during this election cycle.

How stable is the incoming coalition government’s mandate likely to be?

It will be a very, very unstable government. This is partly because the state has lost legitimacy due to the election rigging: first, by not allowing PTI to campaign; then by changing the results; and now with the authoritarian measures they are using to repress any kind of dissent.

There is also a loss of legitimacy of political parties, especially of PPP and PML-N, which have completely capitulated to the military establishment and let go of any semblance of democratic behaviour or principles.

Furthermore, the economic crisis is too great for these people to manage, especially when they are unwilling to touch the subsidies to the elites.

It will be very difficult to create political or economic stability given this crisis of legitimacy and the scale of the financial crisis.

What do Khan and PTI represent in Pakistani politics today?

PTI is fundamentally a centre-right party, if not a more right-wing party. While 10‒15 years ago only the corporate elites were with Khan, today PTI’s social base also includes the new emerging middle class.

There are certain things about Khan that make him very palatable to the kind of public opinion that has been manufactured over the past 30 years in Pakistan: He was the military’s favourite guy; he hated all politicians; he was a Westernised man who loved talking about his spiritual awakening and how Islam was central to his politics and life. He represents all these contradictions that the new middle class has emerged with and identifies with.

Basically, what we have is the rhetoric of revolution, of change, of overthrowing the system, combined with a content that is about reproducing the status quo in terms of the military establishment, the IMF, religious fundamentalism and not touching the elites.

This is similar to what we have seen with the global wave of right-wing movements. They have a lot of rhetoric about change but, beneath it all, are about reproducing the worst aspects of the existing system.

So, the situation we have is one where we have to defend the rights of a right-wing party and fight back against all forms of authoritarianism, because democratic struggles are important for Pakistan’s struggle for socialism.

But we do so without having any illusions in Khan or his party.

You ran as a candidate for HKP, which was only formed in 2022. Could you talk about the party and how its first election campaign went?

We basically come from the student movement. Back in November 2019, students organised this huge student solidarity protest after which there were sedition charges placed against us. This was the first uprising of students in decades, so it was a very promising moment.

After that, there was a debate whether we [then the Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement] should remain a movement or move towards forming a left-wing party. It became clear that due to the vacuum that existed in mainstream politics and the collapse of existing left-wing organisations, we needed a new left-wing party. So in November 2022 we registered the Haqooq-e-Khalq Party.

But if you want to create a party, you cannot be a student-based group; you need to have a base in working-class areas. That is why, in January 2023, we decided to contest the national elections by running a campaign [in the working-class neighbourhood of Chungi, in Lahore].

The main purpose of our campaign was to gain traction, get noticed and build an organisational base. During that year of campaigning, we engaged in the most intense way possible with the working class and their problems. What we found was a social catastrophe.

Given the elections kept getting delayed, we decided to initiate some solidarity work in the area. We built a free academy, where we teach students who cannot go to school some computer skills, language skills, other skills, vocational training, etc.

We also set up a health clinic, which was an incredible experience. We were close to the doctors association — a kind of doctors' trade union — and they helped us set up a free clinic in the area. Developing this infrastructure was one of the best things that happened during this campaign.

We also organised with workers during two incredible strikes to help them win an unprecedented package for laid-off workers, which became a big deal.

Those were some of the big things we achieved in terms of building our base and building consciousness.

This time around, we received 1600 votes — which for a new party is pretty decent. Those are 1600 people who had only just been introduced to left ideas and decided to break with mainstream politics.

This has established the basis for an insurgent kind of politics in the years to come.

[Abridged from You can donate to the HKP-run health clinics at For more information on Ecosocialism 2024 visit]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.