The arrest of Imran Khan The Excelsior 14 Aug 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


The arrest of Imran Khan The Excelsior 14 Aug 2023

          The Pak army never disappoints. No PM in Pak has completed his full tenure and almost all have ended up behind bars. Imran was no exception. His arrest was expected after his ouster, and the deep state did not disappoint. In the Toshakhana case, Imran has been sentenced to jail for three years and disqualified for five. He has been accused of deliberately submitting false details of gifts received by him. The court order sentencing him mentions, ‘His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt.’

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper aptly mentions ‘Pakistan’s twisted political saga continues without the slightest deviation from a tired and predictable script.’ Of the hundreds of cases filed against him, Imran had to be sentenced in at least one for a start. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s national assembly dissolved on 09 Aug and a caretaker government will now run the country till the elections. Imran earlier arrest on 09 May, resulted in violent protests across the country.  

          Post the protests in May, there was a national crackdown. Thousands were arrested including senior members of the PTI. This time there was hardly a whimper. There were minor protests, but none worthy of a mention. Violence was missing. Neither did his party workers offer any resistance to the police team outside his residence. It seems that the public is unwilling to repeat 09 May, as those arrested remain behind bars with no assistance being provided by Imran and his political party.

Even Imran’s B team was muted. His Vice Chairman, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who in May was instigating the public to riot, and arrested for the same, only issued a meek statement mentioning, ‘PTI will use its right to challenge the decision by knocking on the doors of the higher judiciary.’ Those members who jumped ship after being incarcerated for earlier riots, were silent.

Aware that his arrest was imminent, Imran left a video message for his supporters. He stated, ‘I just have one appeal for you: don’t sit and hide in your homes, I want you to continue peaceful protests.’ There were hardly any who responded. The deep state had won, reducing Imran’s support base.

The fear within Pakistan’s deep state was that if elections are held in the current environment, Imran would emerge victorious with a large majority. In such a scenario, he would push to making the Pak army incapable of influencing Islamabad and imposing its writ. Therefore, it was imperative for him to be moved out of the picture. Historically, Pak politicians and bureaucrats have been convicted for financial gains, but never an army official.

          The game to stall Imran was planned by Rawalpindi with the dispensation in Islamabad toeing the line. Pakistan’s Council of Common Interest, under the chairmanship of PM Shehbaz Sharif simultaneously announced elections would be held under the 2023 census. This would imply a delay of a few months, as delimitation would need to be done afresh. Therefore, elections cannot be held before Jan-Feb 2024. This will provide sufficient time to ensure Imran is made redundant. However, to display its policy of following constitutional guidelines the national assembly dissolved on time.

          Aware that the decision to incarcerate Imran is that of the army, Pakistan’s Ex-Servicemen Society (PESS) chastised the military leadership. In a tweet it stated, ‘It is unfortunate to note that the military high command is repeating the mistakes it made prior to the fall of Dhaka in 1971 and later by removing PM Zulfikar Bhutto.’ It added, ‘PESS calls upon the Army High Command, which is actually running the show in Pakistan through its puppets in power, to rethink their strategy.’ It warned that arresting Imran would demoralize lower ranks of the armed forces.       

          Delay in elections also has other reasons. In mid-Sept, both of Imran’s major supporters, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Bandial and President of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi, bid adieu to their chairs. The next CJP is an individual whom Imran had attempted to sideline, Faez Isa. The support that Imran Khan received from Pak Courts would come to an end. It is quite likely that Imran would be acquitted in the current Toshakhana case by the current Supreme Court as its final act of benevolence. It would not happen in the future. Hence, the current arrest was possibly a test bed.

          Delay in elections would give the state time to have him jailed in multiple other cases. There is also a threat of conviction by a military court for the 9th May riots. There are rumours circulating in Pak of debarring of the PTI. The concept being spoken about within Pak is the ‘minus one formula’ implying elections without the PTI.  

          With media barred from mentioning his name or broadcasting his speeches, Imran was left to conveying his views through YouTube, Tik Tok or Twitter. Behind bars that would also not be permitted. Hence, his connect with his supporters would gradually reduce. With his lawyers are already claiming reduced access, his party members would have almost none. This will push him away from public attention, adversely impacting his standing and also increase infighting within his political party.

          Imran’s increased interactions with western politicians and their appeal to their governments to ensure Pak conducts fair elections without convicting Imran, did give an impression that Pak may come in for global criticism. However, the US was the first to announce that the current legal judgement against Imran was Pakistan’s internal matter. His arrest did receive global media coverage, but without Pak being cautioned, it would have no impact.

          Jailing Imran as a common criminal is intended to force him to accept a plea deal and move abroad, staying away from Pak politics. Nawaz also accepted the same after living in deploring conditions for some time. The question is how long would it take for Imran to break.

What is interesting is that Pak politicians continue toeing the army line and act against their own, ignoring the fact that they could be next. It is well known that the deep state will never permit anyone to challenge its power. The Pak army has never lost a battle against its own politicians.