Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan lost his parliamentary majority overnight with a key coalition partner jumping ship, dealing the former cricket star another blow in his fight for political survival. No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a five-year tenure because of interventions staged by the military-led establishment since the 1950s, and the toppling of Khan’s administration would come more than a year before the country’s next scheduled general election. A deal struck in the early hours of Wednesday between the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the combined parliamentary opposition left Khan eight votes short of the 172 needed to defeat a no-confidence vote scheduled to take place this Sunday. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party lost the support of another regional ally, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) on Monday. Many Pakistani analysts expect the move to unseat Khan will be further supported by about 20 PTI rebel MPs led by former aides of the prime minister. Khan has ordered his party MPs to stay away from parliament on the day of the no-confidence vote. If Khan is ousted, a broad-based coalition government is expected to take over, with the combined opposition nominating Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, as its candidate for prime minister. Shahbaz is the younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, after being sacked by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2017. Shahbaz earned a reputation for effective hands-on governance during three terms as chief minister of populous Punjab province. Unlike the vocally anti-establishment Nawaz, Shahbaz is a political pragmatist who preaches reconciliation between Pakistan’s democratic parties and the military. Similarly, the Khan government’s erstwhile MQM and BAP party coalition parties are widely considered to be closely aligned with Pakistan’s military, which has ruled the country for about half its 74-year history. Failed promises Despite a return to constitutional democracy in 2008, the generals have retained their grip on power. The military establishment rescued Khan and the PTI from political obscurity in 2012 to prop them up as a replacement for Pakistan’s dynastic political parties in time for the 2013 general election. The PTI emerged as the third-largest party in the National Assembly after that election and took power in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan’s establishment then paved the way for Khan to become prime minister in 2018 by pushing strong electoral candidates to abandon mainstream parties and join the PTI during a general election campaign fraught with irregularities. The freedom with which Khan’s coalition allies and PTI rebels recently conducted negotiations with the opposition parties is viewed by politicians and analysts alike as evidence that the military did not intervene to save Khan’s administration. China’s belt and road is Pakistan’s path from poverty, says Imran Khan The military’s enthusiasm for the so-called hybrid democratic government led by Khan waned because of his inability to deliver on promises of drastic improvements in governance. Pakistan’s economic turmoil has worsened under him, with critics saying his government has instead focused on waging an anti-corruption campaign against opposition politicians. The PTI’s pursuit of alleged corruption encompassed several projects of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), much to the chagrin of Pakistan’s close ally. Khan’s penchant for populism also affected Pakistan’s other major allies. Shortly after securing billions of dollars of financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2019, he angered them by endorsing an alternative anti-Islamophobia forum to the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) proposed by Turkey and Malaysia. Pakistan’s ties with China and the Gulf Arab monarchies were later repaired by army chief of staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, reflecting the military’s dominance of foreign and national security policymaking. However, Khan refused to endorse the plans Bajwa unveiled in February last year to improve Pakistan’s international standing by changing the goals of national security policy from geopolitical competition with its neighbours to connectivity-based economic growth. Bajwa envisaged the normalisation of Pakistan’s relationship with arch-rival India. He also sought to reset relations with the United States undermined by the military’s years of covert support for the Taliban against the Washington-backed government of Afghanistan which fell last August. What are India’s options as rivals Pakistan and China grow closer? Instead, Khan’s rhetoric against the West and India intensified in proportion to the increasing unpopularity of the PTI-led government because of its failure to curb nagging double-digit inflation. The die for the demise of Khan’s government was finally cast last October when he attempted to prevent a change of leadership at the military’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). While Khan was within his constitutional rights to make the decision, his failed attempt to retain Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed as the chief of the ISI was perceived as an attempt to divide the military’s leadership into rival camps. A new test Sensing that Khan’s government no longer had the generals’ protection, Pakistan’s sidelined politicians closed ranks and mobilised their supporters to bring down Khan’s government. To ensure the success of the no-confidence vote, Pakistan’s opposition parties toned down their public criticism of the role played by the generals in bringing Khan to power. This detente will be tested in the coming months as the incoming coalition government seeks to set the stage for fresh elections. Nawaz Sharif is soon set to return to Pakistan to seek a fourth term as prime minister, and his PML-N party is expected to win a majority. But a scorned Khan could target the establishment, as he has warned he will be a more dangerous politician while in opposition.