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Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan is fighting his ouster

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

More political turmoil in Pakistan. Last weekend, parliamentary maneuver forced Prime Minister Imran Khan out of office. The opposition had criticized him for economic mismanagement. And now Mr. Khan is rallying his supporters to protest his ouster.

NPR correspondent Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad. Diaa, thanks for being with us.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: You're welcome, Scott. Hi.

SIMON: So a new prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif, was selected by Pakistan's parliament this week. Imran Khan and his reporters refuse to accept it. What kind of crisis are we seeing?

HADID: It's unclear if this is escalating into a full-blown political crisis or not. Tens of thousands of people attended his last rally. And if he can keep up those numbers, it will certainly deepen polarization here, and that could have consequences down the line. It's worth remembering Khan was ousted in a no confidence motion this week after trying to stave it off, including by dissolving parliament. And he claims it was an American plot aided by his rivals. Some supporters also accuse the army of aiding his downfall and robbing Khan of his position. Have a listen to this from a rally after he was ousted.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

HADID: They're saying the watchman is a thief, and the watchman here is the army. If this kind of anti-army sloganeering continues, it will keep adding to tensions.

SIMON: Mr. Khan's supporters claim the army is arrayed against them. Could those accusations in Pakistan have consequences?

HADID: Yeah. So normally in Pakistan, one treads very carefully around talking about the army. But what we've seen over the past week is an unprecedented backlash. There's been direct criticism of the army chief. This is Pakistan's most powerful institution, and the country's been ruled by the military for around half of its 75 years. Khan's opponents even accuse the army of propelling him to power, as you've mentioned before. And analysts say his downfall began after the military stopped supporting him, hence that anger toward the army chief. Now, some of Khan supporters have been arrested. Amnesty International is demanding their release. But there's a bigger consequence here, though, beside the price that Khan and his supporters might pay. This crisis puts a spotlight on the army and its alleged role in politics, and that potentially may be good for Pakistan's democracy.

SIMON: How has the military responded?

HADID: Well, the army seems to have been caught on the back foot. It held a hastily arranged press conference this week to insist they hadn't helped to ouster Khan. And that press conference is a bit of that spotlight I'm talking about. The army is being forced to explain itself. But analysts here are taking everything right now with a grain of salt. As an editorial here said today, if the army wants to prove it's not meddling in politics, the proof of that will be in the upcoming elections, which are expected after August.

SIMON: What can you tell us about the new prime minister and how this conflict fits into other challenges he faces now?

HADID: Right. It's interesting that we don't say a lot about the new prime minister because he's very low drama. His name is Shahbaz Sharif. He belongs to a powerful political dynasty. He's also widely seen as a technocrat. He's already got to contend with the currency falling in value. There's a stalled IMF bailout. There's fuel subsidies the country can't afford. He's going to have to make unpopular decisions. And now, he's also going to have to grapple with this constant political upheaval that's surrounding him and which is potentially eroding any legitimacy he might hope for.

SIMON: NPR correspondent Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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