Tension is mounting to the west of the Radcliffe Line though last Thursday marked a reprieve for Imran Khan. An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad granted interim bail to Pakistan’s former Prime Minister who was ousted recently via a noconfidence vote. The leader of the Pakistan Tehreeke-Insaf faces a case that was registered against him for his remarks against senior police officers and a woman judge. The court granted bail till September 1 against a surety of Rs 100,000. Later in the day, an Additional Sessions Judge also granted Khan interim bail till September 7 over a charge of unlawful assembly against a surety of Rs 5000. The hearing over a contempt of court charge will take place on August 31. The cricketing icon-turned-politician has faced mounting legal challenges over the past few days.
It is a measure of the nature of the trial that before Khan arrived in court on Thursday, his lawyer contended that the terrorism case against the PTI chief was registered by the police as an “act of revenge”. Strict security was in place around the judicial complex where the hearing took place with enforcement officials deployed outside the courts. It is hard not to wonder whether the charges were fundamentally weak. In a packed courtroom, Khan’s lawyer, Babar Awan, submitted that the three individuals Khan was accused of threatening had not filed charges. Awan, while iterating Khan’s statements at the rally, questioned how the former PM’s comment of “have some shame”, which is often used colloquially, is considered as “threatening”. After a short hearing, the court granted interim bail and adjourned proceedings.
Crucially enough, Khan made an intrepid presentation to the media shortly after the hearing. “Pakistan is ridiculed around the world. Shahbaz Gill is tortured. When I say that I will take legal action against the police, I get booked under an antiterrorism case. The news was covered around the world, and it looks as if Pakistan is a banana republic where no rule of law exists. Those who are doing this, and those behind this, they should think of the country. We are holding the biggest rallies in Pakistan’s history. Just because of that fear, they want to save themselves and are trying to technically knock me out.” After his government was toppled in April, Khan has repeatedly held large rallies during which he has criticized his political opponents, state institutions, security forces and “neutrals”, a commonly used euphemism for Pakistan’s military establishment. As an individual, Khan is in crisis. So too as a nation is Pakistan. At a time it battles unprecedented floods, its former Prime Minister’s fulminations appear to be striking a chord.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 30, 2022, issue.