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Imran Khan faces end of road as Pakistan army cracks down

Imran Khan faces end of road as Pakistan army cracks down


ISLAMABAD: Locked away in his fortified home in Lahores’ upscale Zaman Park, Imran Khan looks increasingly beleaguered and isolated as the Pakistani military launches a sweeping crackdown on the political party of former prime ministers. was briefly jailed earlier this month, more than 10,000 people linked to Khans Pakistan Tehreeke-Insaf, or Justice Movement, were arrested in police raids. Several prominent leaders are now in jail and more than two dozen PTI stalwarts left the party this week. Publicly, the military and government say they hold accountable anyone who attacks state property. Behind the scenes, however, there is recognition that Khan’s popularity is unmatched and that his party needs to be trimmed down before elections due in October at the latest, according to two people familiar with military thinking. Khan now faces a similar fate as former prime ministers who have been imprisoned, exiled or executed following power struggles with Pakistani generals. Although the backing of the military was widely credited with bringing Khan to power in the last national elections in 2018, his current situation stems from his attempts to smear the military hierarchy a red line for Pakistan’s most powerful institution. , which directly controlled the nuclear-armed nation for much of its post-independence history. For now, it’s the end of the road for Imran Khan, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a senior fellow at Kings College London and an expert on the Pakistani military. The question is, will they be able to take away his support base? Khan’s ability to connect with the outside world and support from the Marshals is already eroded. The internet at his Lahore residence was abruptly cut off on Wednesday ahead of a scheduled call with British lawmakers concerned about Pakistan’s deteriorating political, economic and security situation. Police also aggravated most of his armored cars, limiting his movements, Zulfi Bukhari, a close aide to Khan, told Bloomberg News. A report on Friday said Khan and his wife had been placed on a no-fly list and were barred from leaving the country. The former prime minister survived an assassination attempt late last year. The Pakistani military did not respond to a request for comment. Since his ousting as prime minister last year following a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Khan has campaigned tirelessly for new elections. He castigated the heavyweight coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which is seen as more pro-military, even though his brother was once ousted in a coup as a corrupt force of selfish dynastic parties . The victories and more recent adoption of a devout religion despite his elite upbringing and previous playboy lifestyle have seen his popularity soar in Pakistani society, including many ranks in the military. An opinion poll published by Gallup earlier this year found the Khans’ approval rating rose to 61% in February from 36% in January last year, while the Sharifs fell to 32%. compared to 51% at that time. This poses a major dilemma for military brass. Khan would win an election by a landslide with no credible alternative for the military, according to Tim Willasey-Wilsey, senior associate researcher at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London. With more than 240 million Pakistanis struggling with record inflation and the country on the verge of bankruptcy thanks to stalled bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund, the military is unlikely to oust the elected government and take direct control. . Pakistan’s last coup leader, General Pervez Musharraf, resigned as a deeply unpopular and diminished figure fifteen years ago. The currency has lost around 20% this year, among the worst performers in the world. The army’s problem is that every move against Imran will add to his popularity, Willasey-Wilsey said. It could also lead to divisions among corps commanders who fear alienating the army from the people. The military will no doubt consider intervention options short of a coup, including postponing elections. Khan’s relationship with the military was not always so rocky. After coming to power, he openly admitted that the forces, which benefit from a bloated defense budget and extensive business interests across Pakistan, had a role to play in the country’s governance. But that relationship began to unravel in 2021 when Khan’s anti-American rhetoric drew the country away from the United States as the economy deteriorated, bringing Islamabad closer to Russia and China. Ultimately, it was the Khans’ attempt to control military promotions that heightened tensions. He publicly opposed the choice of then army chief of staff Qamar Javed Bajwas to head Pakistan’s feared spy agency, expressing his support for one of his own allies to keep him in that role. Bajwa was ultimately successful, but the incident sowed the seeds for the Khans’ ousting. Jealously strained relations as his prerogative, said Farzana Shaikh, a research associate at the Chatham House research institute in London. It’s a familiar routine, we’ve been here before. Other parties also splintered and fragmented under pressure from the military establishment. His relationship with Bajwa’s successor, General Asim Munir, was also strained. As prime minister, Khan had removed Munir from the role of intelligence chief. More recently, Khan has inflamed things by personally blaming the recent turmoil on Munirs’ desire for power, and on Monday he compared the situation in Pakistan to the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Hours after the government said this week that he was considering banning his PTI over attacks on military offices and buildings, Khan adopted a more conciliatory tone. He offered to speak with the Sharifs administration and the military, saying he was ready to form a committee to talk with whoever is in power today. Then, at some point, the two most powerful people in the country, the army chief of staff and Imran Khan, have to sit down and discuss a way forward. Such negotiation for Khan will now likely come from a position of relative weakness. Public sympathy for the army has also increased since attacks on army property and officers’ homes. In the port city of Karachi, Pakistan’s business hub, massive banners and posters, some running the length of multi-storey buildings, declare Long Live Pakistan and Long Live the Soldier. Others show Munir flanked by his officers. Professional associations held rallies in support of the armed forces, while TV and film stars took to social media to declare their love and support for the military. Sixteen people accused of participating in the violence that targeted army buildings have been handed over to military courts, according to a document shared by PTI. According to Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, the tactics against Khan are a page in the army’s usual playbook in its dealings with politicians and dissident parties. If this is history repeating itself with the assertion of the army, she said, it does not look good for Imran Khan, his party, or for Pakistani democracy.




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