Imran Khan and Pakistan’s army continue to be at loggerheads. The army took the historical feud too far when it got Mr Khan arrested on May 9th. Mr Khan was thrown into a military van by paramilitary rangers in a corruption case from the Islamabad High Court. Mr Khan, 70, is embroiled in multiple cases of corruption ever since he lost a no-confidence vote in April 2022. He has been out of power since then.
As Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog arrested Mr Khan, the charges were evident. He is accused of corruption in a land-transfer deal involving the Al-Qadir University near Islamabad. Ironically, Mr Khan, the anti-corruption crusader, is accused of granting undue favours to Malik Riaz Hussain, a real estate tycoon. The allegation is that the Al-Qadir University got land and donations in return. Mr Khan denies the charges. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/9/what-is-al-qadir- trust-case-under-which-imran-khan-is-arrested
The Arrest Makes Things Clear
Mr Khan had become Pakistan’s prime minister in 2018 on an anti-corruption plank. In a jarring irony, he is being arrested now for alleged corruption. Mr Khan and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, aka Movement for Justice, have been demanding early elections ever since he lost a no-confidence vote in 2022. Will the elections be held as scheduled towards end 2023? Will Mr Khan get what he wants in his new Pakistan? https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/ex-pm-khan- pushes-early-pakistan-election-by-dissolving-second-provincial- govt-2023-01-18/
Mr Khan’s arrest makes many things clear. The army may ensure elections do not happen as scheduled. The army will have a reason to cite: the ensuing civil disorder after Mr Khan’s arrest. For the same reasons, the army may suspend democracy. After all, the Al-Qadir scandal is an excuse for arresting the Oxford-educated Khan, who has denied his involvement. Circumstances prove his escalating tensions with the army are behind the arrest.
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Desperate to Silence Mr Khan
Mr Khan is now suspecting the army is planning to kill him. Already, a murderous attempt was made in November 2022, when he was shot in the leg by a gunman at a rally in Punjab. Mr Khan had then accused prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and the army for the failed attempt. The army had dismissed Mr Khan’s allegations as “extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable” and had even threatened legal action. https://poliphoon.com/playing-hard-to-preserve-the-record/
As an unflustered Khan continued with his anti-army allegations, Pakistan’s military top brass turned desperate to silence him. The arrest on May 9th thus falls in place. In a worse fate, the arrest comes at a time when Pakistan’s political crisis seems to be peaking and Pakistan is getting ready for a long spell of political turmoil. Mr Khan had accepted his loss of no-confidence vote in 2022, but he will not accept his arrest now. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2023/5/9/imran- khan-arrested-live-former-pakistani-pm-under-arrest
Growth Target Unachievable
Mr Khan has been demanding early national elections. His party even succeeded in getting two provincial assemblies, including Punjab, dissolved. Mr Sharif wants unified polls in all the four provinces, and at the centre, after parliament’s term expires in October. The crisis had become constitutional when the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered elections in Punjab on May 14th following Mr Khan’s demands. The problem continues to fester. https://poliphoon.com/playing-hard-to-preserve-the- record/
The court’s order has not been accepted by the Sharif government. Mr Sharif wants more time to nurse the economy. Consumer inflation is at 36.4 per cent. Food-price inflation is at a record 48.1 per cent. Mr Sharif is aiming at an economic growth above the projected 0.5 per cent. This is an impossible target as Pakistan continues to groan under the weight of huge loan repayments, adding up to $77.5bn and due in June 2026. https://thediplomat.com/2023/05/pakistans-economic-crisis- what-went-wrong/
Portends a Greater Malaise
The challenges before Mr Sharif are huge. Making matters worse, the IMF is showing no signs of resuming its $6.5bn lending programme. Pakistan is a ripe case for default, backing from ally China notwithstanding. China is urging Pakistan to put its politics in order and focus on the economy. As high inflation hits the common man, law and order is going for a toss. Inevitably, localised stirs are exploding into national protests.
Holding the army responsible for the sorry state of affairs, Pakistani protesters are targeting military sites and installations. They are attacking and burning down fortress-like homes of military officers. Loot and arson have become regular features of Pakistan’s civil society. In an otherwise militarised Pakistan, where the army is a much-feared, burning down the homes of military officers’ homes portends a greater malaise. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/10/world/asia/pakistan- military-protests.html
Taking on Military Heavyweights
The army is trying hard to hide the civil violence behind an iron curtain. It wants to twist arms in Mr Sharif’s government to cause outages of telecom and internet services. Mr Sharif is seems to oblige the army as he knows well defiance means disaster for him and his government. This happens often in Pakistan, when politicians get into army’s bad books and the romance comes to an end.
The army then turns against the reigning politicians. In a milieu where politicians try hard to remain friendly with the army at all times, Mr Khan is a rare breed who loves taking on military heavyweights. Whether it is impudence or rash arrogance, Mr Khan is raring to go. He was elected as prime minister in 2018 and he rode to power on the back of anti-corruption and economic growth promises, of course with army’s support. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/25/imran- khan-resume-protests-taking-on-pakistan-military
Fertile Ground for a Coup
Mr Khan’s pitch for a foreign policy, free from the United States, had endeared him to the Pakistanis who have only seen Pakistan acting as a ‘supplicant state’ of the West. As his economic promises evaporated and his honeymoon with the army ended in 2021, Mr Khan lost power. He is now where all political leaders in Pakistan end up finally, in the twilight zone of their careers. Yet, Mr Khan is hoping for a comeback.
Mr Sharif too views Mr Khan’s arrest as an opportunity to last longer in power. Both Mr Khan and Mr Sharif are in for a major disappointment. The army will spare no efforts to use them as cannon fodder. An economically tottering Pakistan is a fertile ground for a coup. Perhaps the army will now gear up now to install itself. Mr Khan sowed many of the seeds of the current crisis and they may spell the end for his political career now. https://theconversation.com/how-imran-khans-populism-has- divided-pakistan-and-put-it-on-a-knifes-edge-205392
This is not improbable. As the army holds Mr Khan responsible for Pakistan’s woes, his arrest was expected. Mr Khan’s arrest now only confirms army’s intentions to end his political career. Mr Khan is hero-worshipped in Pakistan for winning the cricket World Cup in 1992. This idolatry gets a new life as thousands of rioting Pakistanis pour on to the streets after Mr Khan’s arrest. The arrest may after all prop up Mr Khan’s political career, his overflowing cup of woes notwithstanding.