Predicting Imran Khan’s Political Future

It is not certain that Shahbaz Sharif’s government will rest without trying to use further ammunition against Imran Khan to the extent of banning Imran Khan’s political party-Tehrik-e-Insaf from contesting the coming elections.

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Crowd attended a rally organized by PTI chief Imran Khan in last April [File Photo]

Ever since the assassination of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan Pakistan has always been under indirect and later direct rule by the army. Global cricket legend Imran Khan’s removal from the post of Prime Minister through the parliamentary process, albeit with the tacit support of the army, has been an exception.

Imran Khan and Supreme Court Verdict

Imran Khan, hugely popular in Pakistan, has been detained first by the police and then by the Supreme Courtwhich declared his arrest by the police as unconstitutional. Last year the country’s foreign minister came to the United States to explore yet another attempt to repair the U.S.-Pakistan alliance.

Imran Khan’s Accusation of US Conspiracy to Oust Him From Prime Ministership

 Leadersin both U.S. political parties hadlargely written off Pakistan. Yet it is a major non-NATO ally, the world’s fifth-most-populous country, and a nuclear power situated strategically among China, India, Afghanistan, and Iran. After years of mutual distrust between Washington and Islamabad, analysts believe that there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the idea that either side is capable — much less willing — to do the hard work of reviving the alliance.  But the basic argument for trying again is sound. And Pakistan’sforeign ministerBilwal Bhutto Zardari, the son of two previous Pakistani leaders, believes that both nations can learn from the mistakes of the past. His father Asif Ali Zardari, head of Pakistan Peoples Party, was President of Pakistan from 2008-2013 while his mother Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan who led the country twicewas assassinated on December 27 2007 while engaged in the election campaign for a fresh term in Rawalpindi Liaqat Bagh , the place where the first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. Many years have passed by since Benazir Bhutto’s death and the dethroning of global cricket legend Imran Khan’s dismissal, albeit with the tacit support of the army, from the Prime Minister ship, surprisingly without a military coup d’état. 

Huge Popularity of Imran Khan

Despite his dismissal by Parliament Imran Khan remains hugely popular among the masses. His popularity was demonstrated by the provincial election in Punjab, though to be the home ground of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his dethroned brother and former Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif now living in exile. The recent ruling by the Pakistan Supreme Court ruling his arrest by para-military force as unconstitutional gave further boost to his popularity. Political analysts ( RickNoak and Shaik Hussain-May 11 2023) wrote in an article that Imran Khan’s arrest was unlawful. Consequently, and I quote, “ Imran Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan said the former prime minister “is now directly in the custody of the Supreme Court of Pakistan — not in police custody” — as he awaits another court hearing set to take place Friday. The Pakistani government, which appears to be balking at a separate Supreme Court ruling on elections, could still choose to ignore the court’s decision and continue to hold Khan.

Michael Kugelman on Imran Khan

But the ruling may also give the government a way out amid escalating unrest in the country. “The state may conclude that it is best to pick its battles: fall back, release Khan, lower the political temperature for a bit, and then focus on the next steps,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.” Noak and Hussain further wrote “ Protesters’ anger is also directed against the military to an extent that has rarely been seen in Pakistan. As prime minister, Khan was widely perceived as having the military’s support, but tensions mounted after his ouster by Parliament. Khan accused the prime minister, interior minister, and an intelligence officer of having been behind an assassination attempt he narrowly survived in November, and he doubled down on those accusations in recent days. Partly as a result of Khan’s criticism, “the army is more on the defensive now than it has been for quite a few years,” said Michael Kugelman, awriter of Foreign Policy ’s weekly South Asia Briefandthe director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. The scale of the protests has also been an indication of how popular Khan remains among many voters, even one year after Parliament ousted him as prime minister. Some Khan supporters suspect the government’s and military’s ultimate goal may be to ban their party to prevent it from winning the general elections that are expected to take place later this year.”

Shahbaz Sharif’s Possible Attempts to Bar Imran Khan From Contesting The Coming Election

It is not certain that Shahbaz Sharif’s government will rest without trying to use further ammunition against Imran Khan to the extent of banning Imran Khan’s political party-Tehrik-e-Insaf from contesting the coming elections. The history of Pakistan mainly reflected illiberal trends from its independence from British rule. Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist traced the history of Pakistan and mainly the attack by the army against democratic institutions.

History of Army Interference in Pakistani Politics

Four military dictators ruled Pakistan for more than 32 years. Civilian prime ministers — 29 of them — have ruled the country for 43 years. No elected prime minister has completed a full five-year term. Three different constitutions of Pakistan were abrogated or suspended five times in the 75 years since the country achieved statehood.  Hamid Mir further included information onthe World Justice Project, a group that tracks legal systems around the world, ranks Pakistan 130 of 139 countries on the rule of law. A historical pattern of collaboration between dictators and judges has weakened democracy. On one side, Imran Khan is challenging the “neutrality” of the army, and on the other the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is pushing the courts to disqualify Khan. Both the government and opposition are fighting with state institutions. Media freedom is another casualty of the political war among power players. Pakistan is ranked 157 of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index of 2022. Pakistan fell 18 points in the ranking since 2018, when Khan took power. TV channels were blocked. Journalists were attacked, arrested, and banned. Media freedom is under threat even now that Khan has left power.Given the history of Pakistan’s political road blocs, it is difficult to chart the future of Imran Khan.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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