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Express View on Imran Khan’s arrest: his error in judgment

Express View on Imran Khan’s arrest: his error in judgment


A former prime minister has again been arrested in Pakistan. Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf, whose ousting as prime minister in April 2022 by a vote of no confidence catapulted him to cult status as a people’s hero, has been taken into custody seen for allegedly benefiting from funds laundered by a real estate magnate. The case against him is not important, he is cited in more than 140 cases, including one for taking advantage of state donations. His arrest was simply a matter of when, not if.

The reason: he took the army, irritated by his withdrawal from clientelism and his refusal to help him stay in power. From then on, the former star cricketer was seen summoning every ounce of his charisma as captain of Pakistan to rally the people against the military and the Shehbaz Sharif government that replaced his rule. But the more confident he grew in his popular support and insisted on his demand for immediate elections, the clearer it became that he would no longer be allowed to lead a government.

Last month, the government defied a court order to hold elections within the constitutional deadline for two provincial assemblies controlled by Khan’s PTI. The court had set May 14 as the date of the elections, but nothing indicates for the moment that they will take place.

Khan’s error in judgment is that he forgot that those he railed against are always the key words. From the time of an apparent assassination attempt on him during his long march last year to influence the choice of the new army chief, he has openly raged against the military’s top brass, the Prime Minister Sharif and the country’s interior minister.

As the army, too, seemed divided along political lines on several points, Khan was probably convinced that he had disorganized the new leader. Two months ago, he managed to prevent an attempted arrest by mobilizing his supporters, leading to clashes outside his home. The police then withdrew, but this time nothing was done. What certainly tipped the scales was Khan’s repetition of his allegation at a public rally last week that the ISI wanted to kill him and that he had made not one but two attempts. In addition to open discussions that the army could not wage a war against India, it seems that a decision was made to stop it.

Protests against Khan’s arrest erupted across Pakistan. His supporters target the army, literally shaking the doors of the most powerful political force in the country. It’s hard to see him backing down. The military’s institutional memory is too deep for failure on the home front.

General Asim Munir has shown he can play the role, and now he has little choice but to play it to the end, whatever it takes. If all goes according to the army’s script, Khan is likely to be found guilty in one or more of the many cases against him and disqualified from running for office, suffering the same fate he helped bring his predecessor to. Nawaz Sharif.

Khan could make a return in the future, just like some of his predecessors managed to do. But for now, his party may need to be led by someone more acceptable to the powers that be.




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