This week Pakistan witnessed yet another escalation of the already unfolding political crisis since last year when the former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted out of office. In another turn of events, the former Prime Minister was arrested on Tuesday, May 9, 2023 by hundreds of paramilitary troopers on the premises of the Islamabad High Court, where he has been facing charges of corruption in relation to the Al Qadir Trust, a company that he owns. Video footage and images have shown that during his arrest he was reportedly dragged onto the streets into an armored vehicle with hundreds of paramilitary troopers surrounding him in riot gear.
Khan’s arrest and release
Shortly after his arrest, protests broke out in major cities such as Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad – the capital of Pakistan. Protestors had stormed into the General Headquarters (GHQ), the main headquarters for the Pakistan Armed Forces, and attempted to vandalize the ISI headquarters, which the military severely responded by firing back at the protestors. Major highways in and out of Islamabad have also been blocked. In Peshawar, a Radio Pakistan Station was burned down. In response, internet services and social media has been suspended upon orders of the Interior Minister.
Following Imran Khan’s arrest, senior party officials of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (lit Pakistan Justice Movement) (PTI) have been arrested; these include Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhary, Shireen Mazari, and Yasmin Rashid, all of whom served as former Ministers during Imran Khan’s premiership.
After 48 hours of chaos, anarchy, and violence engulfing Pakistan, the Supreme Court stepped in and Khan was released from prison. As per the Supreme Court ruling and by the Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, they claimed that the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) arresting Khan on the premises of the Islamabad High Court was illegal as he was already facing the charges before a 3 judge panel and turned himself in, hence such a move was in violation of the law. It should be noted that the military establishment had issued a statement prior stating that the arrest was legal, which the Islamabad High Court agreed with.
As of now Imran Khan, is under the protection of the Supreme Court in a police guest house as a “guest” under the jurisdiction of Islamabad police. The ruling government and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has condemned the Supreme Court verdict. Interior Minister Rana Sanullah has threatened, “We will arrest him again. If he gets bail from the high court tomorrow, we will wait for the cancellation of bail and arrest him again”.
Following his release, Imran Khan has spoken out and claimed that it was not an arrest, but rather abduction. He has accused the Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir for being the person behind his arrest. He has even claimed that while under custody he was hit with sticks.
Shortly before his arrest, Imran Khan has criticized the military harshly, especially Major General Faisal Naseer of the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) of being the person behind his assassination, and has given him the nickname “Dirty Harry.” The military strongly rebuked his allegations as baseless.
Imran Khan’s Ouster
On April 10, 2022, Imran Khan was ousted out of office via a no confidence motion, with about 20 of his party members defecting in the vote to oust him, something which is possibly illegal as per the Pakistani Constitution, as previously reported by Elections Daily. During the tenure of his premiership, Imran Khan has enjoyed warm relations with the military establishment, but since his ouster, he has accused the military of his ouster, especially being a vocal and outspoken critic of former Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Since his ouster, chaos has rapidly ensued in Pakistan. The former premier has been demanding early elections since his ousting, something the incumbent government has denied, with reasons varying from saying they will be held once the current term is over, which is due to be over by later this year 2023, to saying that Pakistan is not under the right economic condition and therefore it cannot afford any early elections.
Since his ousting, the government has slapped numerous charges against Imran Khan. He currently faces more than 70 charges of corruption and terrorism, which has been denied by the PTI as “baseless accusations.” Additionally, many journalists, politicians, advisors, and social media team members/managers have been routinely rounded up by the police and arrested. Journalists have reported facing harassment, and some have claimed to have been sexually assaulted and facing custodial torture. Notable arrests include Senator Azam Swati, former Special Assistant to Prime Minister to Imran Khan Shahbaz Gill, professor of the University of Illinois, former Minister Sheikh Rasheed, journalist Jameel Farooqi, journalist Imran Riaz Khan, former minister Ali Amin Gandapur, Focal Person to Imran Khan Azhar Mashwani, and many others.
Since his ousting, Imran Khan has regularly held rallies across the country and mobilized his supporters in calling for early elections as well as holding protests. Imran Khan has enjoyed a surge in popularity; his PTI leads in polling averages, with many polls showing that the first choice of Prime Minister.
Failed assassination attempt
On November 3, 2022, while holding a long march from Lahore to Islamabad, Imran Khan was the target of an assassination attempt. Khan, who was struck in the leg, was immediately sent over to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital where he underwent surgery and survived his wounds. Nine other people were injured in the attack, including Faisal Javed Khan, and one those injured was killed.
The suspected gunman was caught by the Punjab Police. In a statement, he claimed that he shot Imran Khan because he was spreading hatred and division and was making blasphemous statements. The gunman was later released as the Punjab Police stated he was a drug addict and his statements could not be verified.
Imran Khan has claimed that there were three people behind his assassination, and those include incumbent Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and Major General Faisal Naseer. Sharif has denied the claims.
Delayed elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Though the PTI lost control of the federal government, they have retained control at the provincial level over two of its provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with Punjab being the most populous province in the country. In a bid to force early elections, the PTI had dissolved both of the provincial assemblies, and as per the Constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of a house dissolution. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had delayed elections till October stating they don’t have the resources to hold these elections, and the military had refused to provide security and reinforcements during the elections.
In April 2022, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case and gave its verdict that the delay in the elections is unconstitutional, and set the date for both of the provincial elections to be held on May 14, 2023, and mandated that the military provide reinforcements during the elections. Though this was a victory for the PTI, the ruling government has condemned the verdict and instead passed a resolution in regards to this, disobeying the orders of the Supreme Court. Though it has been established that the elections must be held by May 14, it is still unknown if elections will truly occur on this date due to the political turmoil and chaos.