2022–2023 Pakistan political unrest

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2022–23 Pakistan political unrest
PTI protests in favor of Imran Khan
Date28 March 2022 (2022-03-28) – 14 August 2023
(1 year, 4 months and 4 days)
Caused by
  • Imran Khan's confrontation with the Pakistan Army
  • Submittion of a Motion of No-Confidence against Imran Khan by the establishment backed PDM
  • Imran Khan ousted as PM, April 2022.
  • Supporters of Imran Khan hold a nationwide protest, day after his removal, April 2022
  • Imran Khan kickstarts his public campaign, demanding early elections, April 2022.
  • PTI wins Punjab by-elections, paving way for PTI to take back control of Pakistan's biggest province, August 2022.
  • PTI-led two provinces stand dissolved, January 2023.
  • Imran Khan arrested on 9 May 2023
  • Countrywide protests following Khan's arrest
  • Imran Khan released on 11 May 2023
  • Mass arrests of PTI leaders and workers since 11 May after May 9 incident
  • Many PTI leaders resigned from PTI and formed IPP and PTI-P[4][5][6]
  • Imran Khan arrested on 5 August 2023
  • Shehbaz Sharif completes his term as Prime Minister, 14 August 2023.
  • Caretaker government formed under Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, 14 August 2023.
  • Imran Khan sentence suspended, 29 August 2023. Though he remains arrested due to Cipher Case.
Lead figures
Casualties and losses

2023 Imran Khan arrest protests:

2022 Azadi March I:

  • 5 marchers killed[9]

2023 Imran Khan arrest protests:

  • 8+ protestors killed[10]
  • 47+ protestors killed (PTI Claim)[11]
  • Many senior leaders arrested[12][13]
  • 7000+ protestors arrested[14]

The 2022–23 Pakistan political unrest was a series of political crises after the ousting of former prime minister Imran Khan through a no-confidence motion in April 2022.[15] The crises began in 2022 when the opposition joined hands and submitted a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan's government in the National Assembly. Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the Pakistani establishment not to stay neutral[16] and play its role to save his government and not let historical rival politicians with alleged corruption charges take over,[17] but the establishment refused.[18]

Allegations of the US interference in Pakistani politics could damage already weak bilateral ties, with the Anti-American sentiment surges.[19] It was revealed in leaked cables shared with The Intercept on 9 August 2023, that the US government had secretly encouraged Imran Khan's ouster, promising warmer relations if Khan was removed and threatening isolation if he was not.[20]

After his ouster, Imran Khan kickstarted his movement called for early general elections, for which calls escalated after the Khan-led PTI dissolved two of its provincial assemblies[21][22] (Punjab and KP), triggering elections in 60% of the country due on 30 April 2023[23] and 28 May 2023,[24] respectively.

Khan's calls received a broadly positive response from the general public, with a Gallup survey declaring Imran Khan as the most popular current political leader in Pakistan, with 61% of Pakistanis having a positive opinion about him, followed by 36% for the PML-N's Nawaz Sharif and former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, respectively.[25]

Imran Khan was arrested by the police from Islamabad High Court on 9 May 2023. Khan's arrest led to a nationwide protest by his supporters. PTI supporters had reportedly indulged into violence to stage their protest against this arrest. Social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and others were blocked in the country.[26] but was later released by Supreme Court two days later. On 5 August 2023, Imran Khan was again arrested on the charges of selling state gifts and was sentenced to three years jail and five years of disqualification by the trial court Judge. On 29 August 2023, Islamabad High Court suspended Imran Khan's sentence. China has lost confidence in the prospects of generating returns from its investments in the crisis-ridden nation. Pakistan's economy remains under severe strain due to a debt crisis, with the country facing challenges in repaying $1.2 billion in outstanding payments.[27]

In Pakistan, inflation maintains its upward trajectory, as indicated by the most recent official data, which shows a year-on-year increase of 35.4% in the consumer price index for March 2023. This marks a significant surge compared to the 31.5% increase recorded in the previous month and the 12.7% rate seen in March 2022. The primary drivers of this multi-decade-high inflation rate are the surging prices of essential commodities, particularly food and fuel.[28]


2018: Election as prime minister[edit]

PM Imran Khan, WEF 2020

General election were held in Pakistan on Wednesday, 25 July 2018 to elect the members of 15th National Assembly and the four Provincial Assemblies. The three major parties Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan, the Pakistan Muslim League led by Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Bilawal Bhutto.

PTI won the most seats in the National Assembly but fell short of a majority; the party subsequently formed a coalition government with several smaller parties.[29]

Following the elections, six major parties including PML-N claimed there had been large-scale vote rigging and administrative malpractices. Imran Khan, chairman of the PTI, proceeded to form a coalition government, announcing his cabinet shortly after the elections.

Claims of electoral malpractice in the 2018 elections are still hotly debated. Numerous neutral observers have issued statements on the credibility of the result, with a top electoral watchdog, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), saying that the 2018 general elections in Pakistan had been "more transparent in some aspects" than the previous polls.[30][31] The EU Election Observation Mission to Pakistan maintained, however, that a "level playing field" was not afforded to all parties and that the process was not "as good as that of 2013".[32]

Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)[edit]

The PDM is political movement founded in September 2020, which is based on allegations of rigging in the 2018 Pakistani general election, which Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won. Imran Khan's government, however, maintained that the movement was motivated by a series of corruption cases against the leaders of the political parties that had were previously in power, namely the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).[33]

Military confrontation[edit]

The tensions between Khan and the army arose in 2021, when Khan tried to appoint his own choice as the new ISI chief. The army resisted this move, and Khan eventually backed down.[34] However, the tensions continued, and in April 2022, Khan was ousted from power in a no-confidence motion. it is widely believed that the army was responsible behind his removal. [35]

After removal, Imran Khan waged a campaign against the military and held rallies and speeches in which he criticized the army's role in Pakistani politics.[36]

Tension reached a melting point when after he was brazenly arrested from the high court by the paramilitary forces, Pakistan Rangers,[37] which later was termed as illegal by the Supreme court.[38] Following his arrest, Khan's supporters stormed the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and set fire to the house of a senior general. The army responded by cracking down on Khan's supporters, and several PTI leaders were arrested.[39]

Khan's campaign against the military has not been without its challenges. The army has a powerful influence in Pakistani politics, and it has been able to silence Khan's critics. Khan himself has been arrested and detained on several occasions.[40][41][42]

Despite the challenges, Khan has shown no signs of backing down from his campaign against the military. He is determined to reduce the military's influence in Pakistani politics, and he believes that this is the only way to ensure that the country becomes more democratic.[43]


No-confidence motion against Imran Khan[edit]

A no-confidence motion was tabled against PM Imran Khan on 28 March 2022. This was followed by a slow trickle of allies going from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) led opposition. First came independent members and the Jamhoori Watan Party, followed by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and defectors from the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (PML-Q). However, the final death blow to the ruling coalition was the defection of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – Pakistan. The opposition also claimed it had the support from a group of PTI MNAs led by ex-secretary general of the PTI, Jahangir Tareen. The PTI alleged that this was in violation of article 63(a) of the Pakistani constitution. The voting was scheduled to take place on 3 April. However, the deputy speaker, Qasim Suri, refused to hold the vote, citing a foreign conspiracy against the government, and article 5 of the constitution. This was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Voting finally took place on 9 April, with Imran Khan losing the vote. Shehbaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan two days later, on 11 April.

Imran Khan conspiracy concerns against USA[edit]

During an exclusive interview with CNN's Becky Andersen, former prime minister Imran Khan claimed that Donald Lu, assistant secretary of the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, insisted that Imran Khan should be removed from office, as the sheer presence of Imran Khan in Pakistan is making the US's ties with India and Afghanistan difficult. Khan indicated to CNN that Lu had made serious allegations that if Khan is not removed, Pakistan would "suffer consequences". A US State Department spokesperson insisted to CNN that these rumors from Khan are false.[44] Khan supports his claims by referencing an undisclosed diplomatic cable from the US.

Massive protests following the vote of no confidence[edit]

Protest in London Park in solidarity with ex-PM Imran Khan on 10 April 2022
Protest in Celebration Square in solidarity with ex-PM Imran Khan on 10 April 2022

Countrywide marches broke out across the nation following the success of the vote of no confidence, many of which moved towards Islamabad. Demonstrations also sprang up amongst the Pakistani communities in Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Italy and other countries[45] On 10 April 2022, tens of thousands marched in cities across Pakistan, waving large party flags and chanting slogans. This led to a creation of Haqeeqi-Azadi Movement.[46]

Provincial Assembly of the Punjab crisis[edit]

After years of political pressure, the Chief Minister of Punjab Usman Buzdar resigned. The resignation was accepted by the governor on 1 April 2022. The current speaker, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, a member of the PML(Q), was nominated by the PML(Q) and PTI for the role of chief minister, while the opposition parties, PML-N and PPP nominated Hamza Shehbaz of the PML(N). Due to the speaker being a contestant in the election, the deputy speaker, Dost Muhammad Mazari of the PTI was in charge of the proceedings. The election, originally scheduled for 16 April was moved ahead to 6 April by the deputy speaker. However, the secretary assembly refused to comply with his orders, and a no-confidence motion was moved against him by his own party.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly[edit]

On 8 April, opposition parties in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly filed a no-confidence motion against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan. The no-confidence motion was filed by Awami National Party parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak, provincial senior vice president Khush Dil Khan, MPA Shagufta Malik and others from the united opposition in the provincial assembly secretariat. The no-confidence motion has the signatures of more than 20 members.[47][48][49]

No-confidence motion against Azad Kashmir prime minister[edit]

On 12 April 2022, PTI submitted a motion of no-confidence against their own Azad Kashmir prime minister who was then replaced.[50]

Oath crises in the Legislature[edit]

National Assembly[edit]

When PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif was elected prime minister, President Arif Alvi had to take oath from him. However, the president went on leave due to illness. In his absence, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani administered the oath of office to the new prime minister.[51]

On 19 April 2022, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif's 34-member cabinet was sworn in, but President Arif Alvi refused again.[52]

Punjab Assembly[edit]

A session of the Punjab Assembly was held on 16 April 2022, in which the opposition candidate Hamza Shahbaz was elected the new Chief Minister but he was not able to take the oath of office. Governor of Punjab Omar Sarfaraz Cheema refused to administer the oath to newly elected Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz.[53] The Supreme Court later declared the election of Hamza Shehbaz as Chief Minister unconstitutional and stated that the deputy speaker’s actions in the election were unconstitutional. The ruling also installed Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the Chief Minister of Punjab.[54]

Haqeeqi Azadi March I[edit]

The 2022 Azadi March I (Urdu: آزادی مارچ, romanized: Āzādī Mārch, lit.'Freedom March') was a protest march initiated by the ousted former Pakistani prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party chairman Imran Khan against the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. On 24 May 2022, Khan announced a long march towards Islamabad starting on 25 May 2022. Khan led the march from Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his provincial government helped him. Senior PTI members lead the march from Lahore, the capital of Punjab.


Hundreds of potential marchers were arrested in an alleged crackdown by the new Government of Pakistan. To prevent protesters from reaching the Srinagar Highway, Red Zone (Islamabad) and entering the capital, hundreds of containers were given to the Islamabad Police and a ban was placed on gatherings. The entrance towards the D-Chowk (Islamabad) was blocked by hundreds of personnel from the Capital Territory Police not allowing protesters to come close by launching tear gas shells at the protesters.

After dawn on 26 May, Imran Khan called off the March on Blue Area just 2.1 miles away from where the police stood firing tear gas shells. In a later interview his justification for calling off the march was to avoid bloodshed, as he alleged that his supporters were ready to fight against the police. The government maintained that Khan called off the march owing to a lack of political support.

Punjab by-elections[edit]

After the floor crossing, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated 25 dissident PTI MPAs for defection in the light of Article 63-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on 20 May 2022. Five of these MPAs were elected on reserved seats (3 for women and two for minorities) and new PTI MPAs were notified on these seats on 7 July.[55]

The ECP announced on 25 May 2022 that the by-elections would be held on 17 July 2022. The government held 177 seats in the assembly. This included 165 PML(N) MPAs, 7 PPP MPAs, 1 PRHP MPA, and 4 independent MPAs. Therefore, they needed to win 9 seats to gain a majority in the assembly. On the other hand, the opposition held 173 seats. This included 163 PTI MPAs and 10 PML(Q) MPAs. Therefore, they needed to win 13 seats to gain a majority in the assembly.

By-elections were held in Punjab, Pakistan on 17 July 2022 to elect 20 members of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won a landslide victory on 15 of those 20 seats, leading to the collapse of Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz's PML(N)-led coalition government.[56][57]

Haqeeqi Azadi March II[edit]

The 2022–23 Azadi March II (Urdu: حقیقی آزادی مارچ, romanized: Haqiqi Azadi March) was a continuation of the 2022 Azadi March I led by the former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan from Lahore to Islamabad against the Shehbaz Sharif ministry's refusal to announce early general elections and the appointment of a new Pakistan Army Chief.

Imran Khan assassination attempt[edit]

Imran Khan’s injuries after assasination attempt.

On 3 November during a political rally near the town of Gujranwala, 2022 former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was engaged in an assassination attempt, but survived the shooting. The march to the Capital as it was called was an important rally for Khan's attempt to undo his removal from office. A senior leader Asad Umar stated, "Yes, he has been shot, there are pellets lodged in his leg, his bone has been chipped, he has also been shot in his thigh.[58]

KP and Punjab assembly dissolution[edit]

Khan-led PTI has dissolved two of its provincial assemblies (Punjab and KP)[21][22] triggering elections in 60% of country due on 30 April 2023 and 28 May 2023 respectively.[23][24]

Supreme Court verdict[edit]

Punjab elections due on 30 April 2023 was moved to 8 October 2023 by the Election Commission of Pakistan on the basis of security and economical hurdles which was direct violation of 1973's constitution of Pakistan which directs caretaker government to conduct elections in no more than 90 days.[59] On 4 April 2023, the Supreme Court declared the country's poll panel's decision to delay the assembly elections in two provinces as "unconstitutional". The top court on Tuesday ordered the government to hold snap polls in the country's most populous province of Punjab on 14 May.

First arrest of Imran Khan and protests[edit]

On 9 May, Imran Khan was placed under arrest by police. Protests and injuries were reported at several locations across Pakistan.[60] On the same day social media was heavily restricted.

On 11 May the Supreme Court of Pakistan deemed the arrest of Imran Khan as unlawful and ordered the Pakistani authorities to release him.[61] However, many senior leaders of the PTI remain in police custody.[13]

Conviction and second arrest of Imran Khan[edit]

On 5 August 2023, Khan was arrested for the second time for allegedly selling state gifts. Session court judge has barred Imran Khan from contesting the elections for the time period of five years and sentenced him to three years in Prison. [62] On 29 August 2023, a Pakistani appeals court overturned the descision and granted bail.[63][64][65]

See also[edit]


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