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What’s Next for Imran Khan?

(We thankfully acknowledge the source. Foreign Policy magazine.)

A week after his arrest on corruption charges, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces an escalating confrontation with the country’s political establishment. Recent developments suggest Pakistan’s military leadership is going full throttle to sideline Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from politics. National elections, currently scheduled for October, loom.

Paraphrased text … Imran Khan is the former prime minister of Pakistan. He was arrested on corruption charges last week. Now the rift between the military establishment and Khan is worsening fast. It’s clear that the military is bent upon excluding Imran Khan and his political outfit, Teherrek -e- Inshaf (PTI) from the political scene of the country. The national elections are due in October.

Khan blamed Pakistan Army chief Asim Munir for ordering his arrest by paramilitary forces last Tuesday; he was released a few days later. Just before his arrest, Khan repeated allegations that a senior military officer was behind a November assassination attempt against him, which the military denies. Pakistan’s army doesn’t take well to such public allegations.

Paraphrased text .. Khan accused the Pakistan Army and its chief Asim Munir of effecting his arrest, but Khan was released a few days later. Before he was taken into custody, Khan reiterated his charge that a senior military officer had masterminded the assasination attempt on him. The military, however, refuted the allegations. The Pakistani Army feels irked by such allegations in public against it.

On Monday, the military released a statement vowing to use the Pakistan Army Act to prosecute the protesters who attacked military facilities after Khan’s arrest, warning that “restraint will no longer be exercised.” (PTI leaders have denounced the violence.) The 1952 law involves the use of military trials, mainly to prosecute military officers. A 2015 amendment gave the military more leeway to prosecute civilians, but it expired in 2019.

Paraphrased text .. The Pak military, through a statement, cited the Pakistan Army Act to issue a stern warning to those who had invaded the army head quarters. The warning that came on Monday stated that the army will unleash its full might to counter the protesters who had vented their fury on the military facilities soon after Khan’s arrest. The Pakistan Arms Act passed in 1952 was originally meant to prosecute delinquent military officers through court-martials. It was amended in 2015 to include civilians who harm the army. The Act has expired in 2019.  PTI, the political party of Imran Khan, has castigated the protesters who ran amok and attacked army facilities.

This statement, endorsed by civilian leaders, should be read in the context of Pakistan’s recent Supreme Court rulings, which ordered Khan’s release and rejected an earlier government decision to delay two provincial elections. Army leaders seem concerned that the high courts may be too lenient toward Khan—and seek to literally take the law into their own hands.

Paraphrased text … Civilian leaders of Pakistan have broadly concurred with the PTI’s deprecation of the violent mob that attacked the army. The Supreme Court of Pakistan recently undid Khan’s arrest by ordering his immediate release and also refused to approve the government’s decision to defer two provincial elections. The Supreme Court’s forceful intervention in favour of Khan seem to have prompted PTI to soften its stand against the army. The perceived leniency of the high courts of the country towards Khan and his followers has not gone down well with the army top brass.  The accommodative attitude of the courts towards Khan seem to have rattled the Pak Army, who feel the protesters will be emboldened by the court’s stand.

Even before the military’s statement, Pakistani authorities detained other PTI leaders, purportedly for their role in the violent protests. In conversations with Foreign Policy, PTI supporters in Pakistan also described friends having been arrested in recent days for attending peaceful protests. According to the party, police have even arrested family members of PTI leaders. A few PTI leaders have now announced that they will leave the party, citing the protests against the military—although they could have faced pressure to resign.

Khan remains free on bail for now, but he could be arrested again under any of the numerous charges facing him—which he dismisses as politically motivated. On Wednesday, Khan said police had surrounded his house and that he feared he would be detained again. Islamabad has now accused him of sheltering people involved in the violent protests and threatened to stage a police operation if he does not release them to the authorities within 24 hours.

Although the detentions of PTI leaders and supporters could weaken the party, arresting Khan again and holding him for an extended period could deal it a damaging blow. The PTI revolves around its charismatic and popular leader, and the party may struggle to maintain momentum—and its identity—with him behind bars.

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