Nabeel Zafar describes a recurring occurrence
Arrest of Imran Khan – Former prime minister Imran Khan, whose existence has been watered down as chairman PTI, is the latest addition in the list of prematurely unseated democratically elected political chief executives of the country. The country, indeed the world beyond it, is informed that he is the first former PM to have been incarcerated in Attock jail widely questioning the Pakistani governance system that never shirks from shabbily treating its elected chief executives. This travesty of laid-down principles of governance point out that the forces-that-be are not prepared to waver from the extremely harmful script that has put made Pakistan a benighted land. Imran Khan was sentenced to three years along with being disqualified from representative activity as he was found involved in corrupt practices. As is now well-known that similar charges of corrupt conduct were levied against all preceding elected political chief executives of the country; though none of such charges stood the test of time.
Known for his populist politics, Imran Khan claims almost a quarter-of-a-century of political activity but elected as PM in 2018 with the backing of the military but after losing their support he was toppled from power last year in a vote of no confidence.The ruling and subsequent arrest are projected to be a strong, and probably, decisive action to keep him from contesting Pakistan’s upcoming general elections, which are scheduled to take place by November but could be delayed further. The case is one of nearly 150 cases that he is facing in the courts which include charges of corruption and attempted murder. However, there is a broad consensus that he is still the most popular political presence in the country.
His arrest came days ahead of an expected decision by Pakistan’s government to dissolve parliament and pave the way for a general election. It was the drop scene of months long intimidation campaign against him ultimately aimed as hollowing out his political party and stifling the remarkable political comeback he has made since being ousted from office last year in a vote of no confidence. Imran’s arrest has also conveyed a powerful message to his supporters who had shown the temerity to defy the powerful military establishment and that it is the ultimate hand wielding political power behind the government. It was obvious that Imran Khan appeared intent on running in those polls but the court ruling which his legal team appealed, could result in a years-long ban from politics.
Imran Khan, who is facing an array of court cases, was briefly arrested on 9 May this year in a different case but set off violent protests across the country, as well as attacks on military installations. Days afterward, the country’s top court declared that the authorities had unlawfully detained him and ordered his release. This relief provided to him did not go well with the establishment that was decidedly uncomfortable with protests launched by his supports that were channelled towards the military that were widely considered to have crossed an unspoken red line of defiance compelling the authorities to stage an extensive crackdown. Throngs of his supporters were arrested in connection with the protests on 9 May with many prominent leaders of his party resigning after they were arrested or said they had been threatened with criminal charges and arrests. Earlier, for months he had avoided arrest with his supporters at times fighting pitched battles with police to keep him out of custody. His residence in Lahore was virtually besieged by law-enforcement agencies and remained a focus of attention by his supporters as well as sympathetic social media.
Many observers point out that Imran Khan’s arrest marks a significant turning point in the state’s actions against his party essentially aimed at rendering it unable to participate in the upcoming elections. Arresting him at this juncture would deprive, what is left of his party of its most valuable asset and it may not be able to gain any electoral ascendancy as he and his supporters have promised to the electorate. The verdict against him also aimed at fatally denting his claims about being honest and upright as the trial court found the former prime minister guilty of hiding assets after illegally selling state gifts. The verdict is the culmination of a nationwide political saga that has escalated since he was ousted in April 2022. In the months that followed, he drew thousands out to protests where he railed against the country’s establishment and accused it of orchestrating his fall from power but this accusation has been vehemently denied.
The case is related to an inquiry by the country’s election commission, which found last October that Imran Khan had illegally sold gifts given to him by other countries when he was prime minister and concealed the profits from the authorities. However, he denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers accused the sentencing him of bias and sought to have the case transferred to another judge. They are likely to appeal this ruling. Interestingly, unlike when he was arrested in May, this time round there were no mass protests in his support considered a sign of effective measures undertaken by the authorities to stifle his support.
On the other hand, members of the Pakistan’s governing coalition welcomed the outcome and denied that arrest was linked to political persecution or that it was part of a plot to prevent the former prime minister from running in the country’s next elections. It was however reported that the country’s governing coalition had signalled that it was considering postponing the upcoming elections so that its political leaders could be sure that he and his party would not pose a major political threat in the race. It is further mentioned that his arrest and disqualification may make that unnecessary though it is difficult to say so now. The spectre of Imran Khan obtaining relief from apex judiciary that is widely held to be rather sympathetic to him. It is also mentioned that his arrest could also challenge civilian and military leaders as Pakistan grapples with an economic crisis and a spate of recent terrorist attacks.
Many analysts are of the opinion that if Khan managed to get on the ballot despite his incarceration, his populist appeal may still help him win the upcoming vote. PTI has accused the government of stalling the vote by trying to redraw constituencies and it is pointed out that such measures are aimed at giving the coalition government enough time to finalise Khan’s ban from politics ahead of the vote. However, the government representatives rejected these assertions and emphasise that the law has naturally taken its course. However, many independent analysts concede that Imran Khan committed a blunder by not complying with the ECP’s asset declaration rules as strictly as he should have but viewed in the backdrop that very few of those who received gifts earlier in an official capacity may be able to pass similar scrutiny if their records were to be examined with the same vigour, handing Imran the maximum possible sentence for the offence he was charged with seems excessive. Pakistani state is found consistently subjecting popular political leaders to such humiliation without realising that such actions seriously limit its manoeuvring space. The Weekender