Pakistan never ceases to amaze. This was evident in their recently concluded elections. Polling results were delayed by days to select candidates shortlisted by the Rawalpindi clique of generals.
There has been a drastic escalation of the power struggle in Pakistan with the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, having been charged under the anti-terrorism act. The development threatens to ignite a fresh bout of political turmoil and public unrest, and the dispensation of Shehbaz Sharif hasn’t intrinsically been an improvement. The Islamabad High Court has decided to initiate contempt proceedings against Khan. The charges were filed a day after the former Prime Minister, who was ousted in a noconfidence vote in April, addressed his supporters at a rally in Islamabad. Notably, he had condemned the recent arrest of one of his top aides; he even threatened senior police officers and a judge associated with the case. “We will not spare you,” he warned, vowing to file legal cases against them.
The police version states that his comments amounted to a deliberate and “illegal attempt to intimidate the country’s judiciary and police”. Pertinently enough, Khan is yet to be arrested. According to Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, he has not yet commented publicly on the charges. Ever since he was forced out of office, Khan has proved that he remains a potentially potent force in the politics of Pakistan. He may be down but is not out. Khan remains as charismatic as he is populist. He has drawn tens of thousands of people to his rallies across Pakistan. Indeed, that influence has been projected by his party as a sign of possible electoral success. Barely two months ago, the PTI won a sweeping victory in local elections in the dominant province of Punjab. Furthermore, it fared well in this month’s voting in Karachi, the nation’s economic hub.
As remarked by Adil Najam, the Dean of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, “Imran Khan is clearly an order of magnitude stronger than he was when he was removed. The removal was probably the best thing to happen to him.” There is little doubt that Pakistan’s former Prime Minister is straining every nerve to effect a political comeback. Equally, he and his supporters are contending with a crackdown that is aimed at curtailing his party’s electoral prospects. He is already facing curbs on coverage. The country’s media regulatory authority has imposed a ban on the live coverage of his speeches on news television channels.
Reports suggest that several journalists and talk-show hosts, who are sympathetic towards Khan, have alleged that they have been threatened by the present government in recent weeks. It would be pertinent to stress that Shahbaz Gill, a senior aide to Khan, was recently imprisoned on the charge of making antimilitary comments on a TV talk show. The fact of the matter must be that the Rawalpindi GHQ remains the most potent force since August 1947.