Vendetta and vindictiveness have always been scandalous in Pakistani politics. The arrest of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s most popular former prime minister, is far more than that. It signals the return of democracy-hating military generals to militarised politics in Pakistan. As Mr Khan, 70, is arrested and taken to the high-security prison in Attock, about 80 kilometres west of the capital, Islamabad, Pakistan’s army proves who is in charge.
Dangerous for Pakistan
This does not mean that Mr Khan is innocent and he has been wrongly jailed. Indeed, so improper was his act of selling the gifts in the treasury, when he was prime minister, that he does deserve punitive action. However, Mr Khan has been given a harsh three-year jail term in a high-security prison meant for hardened criminals, besides a fine of $355. His action of selling the State’s gifts is not terrorism by any stretch of imagination. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/05/former- pakistan-prime-minister-imran-khan-jailed-for-three-years
What does this disproportionate punishment mean? Basically two things. Pakistan’s power-thirsty military generals are back to play an active role in Pakistani politics and they are determined to remove Mr Khan from politics. This is dangerous for Pakistan, which has seen 33 years of military rule by three dictators since its creation in 1947. The return of the generals is worrying Pakistan’s liberals and neighbouring India.
Video Courtesy: Channel 4 News
Vice-Like Grip on Politics
Military sympathisers in Pakistan disagree. However, what confirms the generals’ intentions is the haste shown in arresting Mr Khan to consign him to the Attock high-security prison on August 5th. The generals seem to have arm-twisted the court in Islamabad to hand him a jail sentence far too harsh for his offence. Any crime of this nature should have ended in expropriation of illicit gains and a stiff fine many times in excess of the gains. That was not to be.
In military generals-managed Pakistan, such righteousness is unthinkable. Particularly when the man in question is Mr Khan, a friend-turned-foe. The generals are back with a vengeance, desperate to make good the years lost in ‘aimless’ spells of democracy. So permanent is their vice-like grip on Pakistani politics that even the elected prime minister Shehbaz Sharif had to dissolve the National Assembly prematurely on August 9th. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-prime- minister-advise-president-dissolve-parliament-2023-08-09/
Target of Political Vendetta
The hands of the generals are visible in this game of throne. Mr Sharif has been forced to hand over power to senator and caretaker prime minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, who enjoys the backing of the generals. This does not augur well for Pakistani politics and democracy. Unmistakably, the jailing of Mr Khan ushers in a period of military turbulence. As Pakistan begins to boil, it will be soon in for its worst-ever dictatorial phase. https://pakobserver.net/anwar-ul-haq-kakar-to-be-the-new- caretaker-prime-minister-of-pakistan/
There is more evidence to show Mr Khan is a target of political vendetta. One, he has been thrown into prison for ‘corrupt practices’ which is a vague term that is and interpretable later to include anything criminal under the sun. Two, his denials and appeal have failed to influence the courts. They have bombed, perhaps by design. Three, Mr Khan’s jailing is politically motivated as his conviction carries a five-year ban from politics.
Condemned to Suffer Extinction
A three-year jail term with a five-year ban is unheard of for corrupt practices. By that yardstick, most politicians and corporate managers should fill the world’s prison cells. Clearly, Mr Khan’s sentence is the climax of the general’s efforts to eliminate Mr Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in future elections, if at all they are held. All signs on the board indicate the return of the generals to active politics in Pakistan. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/08/09/pakistan-imran-khan- arrest-pti-election-politics/
Sure, the toshakhana (government treasury house) case did bring out the blind greed of Mr Khan, who had always projected himself as a warrior out there to weed out corruption in public life. However, the manner in which he has been convicted and the disproportionate sentencing do prove Mr Khan’s real crime is his anti-army stand. Mr Khan had to be condemned to suffer exemplary punishment of political extinction.
Narcissistic Generals Provoked
Pro-army backers do not tire of arguing that Mr Khan began his prime ministerial tenure as generals’ blue-eyed boy. The reality is that the honeymoon did not last for long as the army finally lost patience with his cavalier attitude, care-none posturing and economic bungling. The generals had to engineer a vote of confidence in April 2022 to throw Mr Khan out of office. Despite this loss of face, he did not go gentle into dusk. https://www.ft.com/content/ff773270-7a48-4be3-8c87- 88c9b247f4e3
Charged, Mr Khan went on to launch tirades against the generals through protest rallies. He accused them of trying to kill him. He incited his men to attack military infrastructure. Provoked, Pakistan’s narcissistic generals broke his party. They began neutralising his supporters and this has culminated now in the attempt to neutralise Mr Khan as well. This explains the current jailing of Mr Khan and the ban inflicted on him. https://poliphoon.com/playing-hard-to-preserve-the-record/
Generals’ Desire to Hang On
Where do the generals go from here? What more games do they have on their minds? With the exiting prime minister Sharif, a pliable caretaker prime minister Kakar, an assenting parliament and malleable courts, the generals have begun creating an environment conducive to military rule. They have already amended Pakistan’s vague ambiguous laws to suit their approach and satiate their hunger for power. https://poliphoon.com/imran-khans- cup-of-woes/
What alarms Pakistan’s non-partisan economists is the decision to grant Mr Kakar the authority to seal deals with the World Bank and overseas lender-investors. These telltale signs confirm the generals’ desire to hang on for an interminable period, at least as long as the going is good. To make all these happen, the fiery-fighter Khan has to be eliminated. This is when the toshakhana case landed on generals’ laps and they lapped it up. https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2023/07/12/pr23261-pakistan-imf-exec-board-approves-us3bil-sba
All Vital Parameters Injured
This insatiable lust for power resoundingly proves that the generals are sure to hang on even beyond the 90 days allowed by the constitution. Already, the first short has been fired. Some time after August 5th, a new census has been mandated. This calls for delimitation of constituencies, which should take more than six months. As Mr Kakar is a yes-man, he will continue to work under the generals till the exercise is over.
How long will that be is anyone’s guess. As Mr Sharif has retired hurt from a non-performing economy he is leaving behind tattered finances. Despite signing a nine-month bailout programme with the World Bank for USD 3bn, Pakistan continues to face a default possibility. In such an indebted Pakistani economy, all vital parameters show sharp injuries – rising inflation, prohibitive energy costs and backbreaking interest rates. https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/pakistan-hikes- petrol-diesel-prices-after-imf-rescue-2023-08-01/
Unlikely to Fall for the Bait
These are plum excuses for the generals to hang on. They will say that recovery is taking long and they need to cling on to set things right. The generals have already taken charge of the economic council and are busy selling Pakistan to investors in the Middle East. These investors are unlikely to buy the idea without extracting their perceived benefits from battered Pakistan. After all, they have been financing Pakistan for long. https://www.wsj.com/articles/gulf-nations-poised-to-invest- billions-in-pakistan-as-it-seeks-infusion-of-foreign-currency- 9dfbb2ad
The Poliphoon’s Last Word
Beyond doubt, the generals are taking Pakistan into a flaming abyss of clipped democracy and cramped freedom. They will cite a sinking economy to justify their actions. They will blame Mr Khan to explain the economic non-performance. They will soon leave the unlucky Pakistanis with a Hobson’s choice between rabble-rousing demagogues and democracy-destroying generals. Strange are the games military generals play in Pakistan’s militarised democracy.