Since Imran Khan was deposed in April of this year as a result of a no-confidence vote, his party has come under intense scrutiny. The PTI is under pressure since they frequently attack the country’s strong military in their public demonstrations, accusing its top brass of being behind the regime change, and imposing an illegitimate government over the people of the country.
There is widespread belief among Khan’s supporters that a US official was behind the plot to remove him as prime minister. They have no doubt in their minds that the PDM leadership and the deep-state were actors in the dark comedy that resulted in the elimination of their formidable political opponent.
Though the general public and social media in Pakistan appear to agree, mainstream news outlet have remained relatively silent on the country’s largest political scandal in years.
Even without naming the exact officers who collaborated, several people who denounced Pakistan’s military for its alleged complicity in the plot have already left the country. While some have been charged with crimes, others have been arrested.
Imran Khan facing terrorism charges
Khan was charged after he delivered an fiery speech to tens of thousands of his followers last week at a gathering in the nation’s capital, Islamabad. Khan who has turned into populist politician threatened the senior police officers and judge in charge of the case with law-suits for allegedly torturing his top aide.
Gill was detained on August 9 on charges of inciting sedition and mutiny amongst the armed forces.
Senior military officials have already indicated that Gill’s comments do not constitute a significant violation because all military officers are already sworn to disobey unlawful directives from their superiors.
The PTI leadership claims that Gill was detained without an arrest warrant, tortured, and sexually assaulted in jail by the government.
According to Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure (CrCP), an accused can remain in custody for the maximum of 14 days. However, in “terrorism specific cases,” detention can be extended for up to 90 days.
Arresting Imran Khan will lead to chaos and violence
Following the large-scale Gill support protest on Saturday, Khan was charged under Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. Khan promised to file law-suits against law enforcement and court officials for their alleged involvement in torturing Gill during his speech.
The government officials justified the terrorism allegations against Khan, stating that he caused fear amongst the police ranks and impeded the work of the police and the judiciary.
When the prosecuting cabinet is primarily constituted of renowned indicted criminals and serial offenders on counts ranging from corruption to murder, the claim appears absurd.
The ATA has been criticised by both domestic lawyers and international groups. Its definitions are too broad, and its powers and authorities are too aggressive and hazardous.
If Khan is taken into custody, widespread and potentially violent dissent would be sparked across the country, but it will be most intense in the major urban centres and in the northwest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Restricting political speech through the legal system has never produced positive effects and always backfires in the long run. Again, this episode of arresting Khan will be just like all the others. Imran Khan will emerge stronger politically as a result of such strategies.
The State is erroneous in thinking that the PTI lacks another leader with Imran Khan’s degree of support and charisma who could head the party and that, should Khan be sidelined, the party will collapse like a house of cards.
The reality is, however different. Khan will still control PTI, even if he is arrested. In such a scenario, there will probably be a potentially lethal clash between Khan’s supporters and the government. The party, instead of looking for another leader will without a doubt rally behind Khan.
Both the administration and the army have more to lose from Khan’s arrest. Recent by-election victories in the country’s most populous province indicate that Khan’s party has regained a substantial amount of its electoral support. The arrest of Khan on such dubious charges will turn him into a martyr, inspire even more disruptive demonstrations, and skyrocket his popularity. Moreover, it is possible that the economy will suffer greater damage.
OHCHR report on the misuse of terror laws in Pakistan
The ambiguous and unduly wide definition of “terrorism” in the ATA’s provisions is one of its fundamental weaknesses, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). This enables the prosecution of offences with no connection to militancy or banned terrorist organisations.
Under ATA, up to 80% of people found guilty of crimes related to terrorism in Pakistan had actually committed offences totally unrelated to terrorism.
The OHCHR also references the opinions of Pakistani attorneys who say that the level of political and economic pressure involved in a case determines whether or not the accused person would be tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act or in the regular criminal justice system.
Imran Asmat Chaudhry, a senior advocate for the High Courts, is quoted in the report as saying that he personally took up 11 matters that were delegated to ATCs for trial. Even if the crime had nothing to do with the ATA, all of the cases were motivated by personal animosity, political rivalry, or other malicious objectives of the police officers.
The report concludes that the ATA’s broad legal definition has frequently allowed for its use as an instrument of political victimisation by ruling parties against rivals.
Media under intense pressure
Multiple news channels were shut down in response to the news of Khan’s arrest warrant, and renowned journalist Jameel Farooqi was detained and taken to an undisclosed location. Analysts claim that Pakistan has never experienced fascism and authoritarian on this scale.
Activists on Pakistani social media have claimed that the country’s major cities have seen heavy deployement of troops. The government has outlawed Khan’s appearances on national television, and the Islamabad Police have allegedly said they will no longer protect Khan while he is in the city.
Most Pakistanis doubt if the government has enough ability to arrest the most popular leader in Pakistan’s recent history, which could lead to a hazardous standoff between state officials and common Pakistanis.
The political party led by Khan, the PTI, is currently in charge of numerous administrations in various provinces across Pakistan. In sharp contrast, the ruling party of the federal government, which is widely regarded as a foreign installed administration, is confined to the nation’s capital and is experiencing a significant crisis of legitimacy, despite the fact that vigorous efforts are being made to control the narrative.
Cracks within the ruling coalition
The condition of the current Pakistani government is hopeless. In order to help generate a public mandate of support, it cannot push for early elections because all signs point to Khan winning by a landslide. However, without this mandate, even exercising government authority is difficult, especially in light of the continued public hatered displayed in large-scale street protests and on social media.
Additionally, there are internal fractures within PM Shahbaz Sharif’s administration; these cracks are gradually emerging and growing wider.
In a by-election held in Karachi on August 21st, the PTI handily defeated their opposition, a 13-party alliance. Since, these large election margins are occurring on the opposition’s home field, so it is as if Imran Khan has already gone to the polls and won.
Some members of the ruling alliance have already left areas where the PTI has established provincial governments to avoid arrest. Some members of the federal cabinet have already fled abroad.
The military leadership in Pakistan have completely lost touch with the mass populace. The more threatened they feel, the more determined they grow, bringing the country they vowed to defend closer to its inevitable annihilation.
Others, are concerned that if the state succeeds in detaining – or perhaps assassinating – Imran Khan, there will be no one of comparable stature and popularity to lead Pakistan to safety. In order to avoid a complete collapse of enormous numbers, mass movements need professional and legitimate leadership that can effectively direct nations toward a politically productive aim.
There has not been a quiet moment in Pakistani politics since Imran Khan was ousted on 9 April under an alleged US sponsored plot. It is as if the nation developed a new head over night.
No one anticipated that the one-page Imran Khan used to boast about would be so ruthlessly shredded into pieaces so soon. Nobody had predicted that the military establishment, which claimed neutrality, would so overtly drag themselves into politics.
On August 22, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah declared Afghanistan to be a an enemy country, signifying greater Pakistani obeisance to Washington’s most recent campaign against that country. Such choices are completely at odds with the desires, and preferences of the Pakistani people.
In the not-too-distant future, a confrontation between the majority of Pakistanis and a Pakistani elite that is becoming more unpopular each day seems to be unavoidable.