Imran Khan’s disqualification Is it a handiwork of Pakistan’s deep state India vs disinformation 26 Oct 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Disqualification of Imran Khan is a strategic action

          Last week Imran Khan was disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) from being a member of parliament for ‘corrupt practices.’ He was charged for making ‘false statements and incorrect declaration’ in his details of assets and liabilities filed for 2020-21 with the commission. The ECP released the results of the recently concluded by-polls less those seats which were won by Imran Khan. The Supreme Court in an earlier judgement had declared that an individual convicted for an offence of this nature cannot head a political party, which in this case means Imran is no longer leader of the PTI. However doubts remain on whether this disqualification is for the current term or even beyond.

          Interestingly, the same day as the election commission judgement, the Pak army chief, General Bajwa reiterated his intention to retire on schedule as also announced that the army will remain apolitical. There have been reports that the Pak president facilitated a couple of meetings between Imran and the army chief, intending to broker peace, implying that the establishment can never be apolitical. Imran has also admitted to these meetings.  

Post winning the by-polls on multiple seats recently, Imran confidently admitted to backchannel discussions with the government and senior army generals. Imran’s insistence has been early conduct of elections. He stated, ‘Negotia­tions, what should I say… (t)hey are happening and not happening. Whatever little we have done over backchannels, there is no clarity as yet.’  

A day after the disqualification, Imran began singing a different tune. He stated, ‘Dialogue via backchannels is a part of (the) routine… political par­ties always keep negotiation channels open. But I don’t think anything is going to come out of these talks.’ He added that details of the ‘long march’ will be announced shortly.   

Imran realized, rather late, that the disqualification was a strategic move played out by the deep state, almost similar to removing his government by a no-confidence motion. To keep him off guard, talks were initiated at different levels, possibly even assuring that there would be no disqualification decision and a deal on elections can be expected. It lulled him into postponing his long march as also lowering his rhetoric. The announcement of the disqualification came as a surprise.

Once announced, it closed all options other than approaching the courts for its reversal. While the case remains in court, Imran will be compelled to avoid taking any harsh action which could jeopardise his case. The ECP also appears to be in no hurry to release the official judgement, signed by all members, to enable the case to be filed. It claims the delay is on account of a member being ill with dengue.

Most important is whether the courts will hold the decision in abeyance or begin debate on the subject with an intent to announce its judgement later. In case the decision is not held in abeyance, Imran is legally not the head of the PTI and can be charged with instigating violence in case he pushes ahead with his threatening long march. It has placed brakes on Imran’s steamroller. The initial violence which followed the judgement has ended with a whimper. It was expected as Imran remains a popular leader. 

Members of the ruling coalition denouncing Imran as a ‘certified thief,’ was almost simultaneous with the decision. It was intended to damage his claims of honesty which was the reason for his popularity. Shehbaz Sharif tweeted, ‘The myth of (Imran Khan’s) honesty and sagacity has been broken.’  Maryam Nawaz stated, ‘As big as the theft is, the punishment should not end only with disqualification. He should be arrested and brought before the law and the looted money should be recovered.’ These were almost similar words used by Imran against Nawaz Sharif. Bilawal Bhutto stated that this was just the beginning and many ‘more such decisions’ should be expected. 

Adding to insult was the decision of the Islamabad high court that the government must make details public of all gifts received by Imran Khan during his tenure as the PM. The court also ruled that these gifts belonged to the state and not any individual and hence its declaration to the public was essential. This would damage Imran as he retained his gifts by stating, ‘Mera tohfa, meri marzi (my gift, my choice).’   

The case will not be decided within a week. In case of an unfavourable judgement in the high court, the party will be compelled to approach the Supreme Court. During this period Imran cannot demand fresh elections. This subject will be on the backburner for the moment. Simultaneously, he cannot intervene in the appointment of the new army chief, which is expected next month. Shehbaz Sharif is playing his cards close to his chest. By delaying the decision on the appointment, all in the list to replace Bajwa remain hopeful, and would do nothing to damage their chances. Thus, Imran cannot obtain any immediate support from any general favourable to him.  

There are multiple other cases filed against Imran including foreign funding. These will now begin emerging one after the other. How many of them would Imran and his party be willing to challenge. On how many occasions can Imran state he is honest, and the cases are fabricated. The success or failure in forthcoming cases would be determined on who occupies the chair in Rawalpindi. Imran would have no participation in his appointment. He would be fighting legal battles to survive. Attempts to suppress the courts by display of political power including threats of bringing the country to a standstill are unlikely to succeed.      

Imran may attempt to project a brave face but has realised that despite his bravado he has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by the deep state for the second time. They let him rant, build the belief that he is invincible and cannot be touched before pulling the rug from under his feet. Slowly and steadily Imran’s reputation is being tarnished. It began with the embarrassing audio leaks and has moved to the ECP. The audio leaks displayed him fraudulently exploiting the cypher to blame the US, while the current case projected his dishonesty. Waiting to see what would come next. Rawalpindi has proved its mettle.