Imran Khan’s Arrest and Deepening Political Uncertainties in Pakistan
Amb D P Srivastava, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Imran Khan’s arrest in the Toshakhana case has removed him from the electoral math for five years. Though he will appeal, the process will take time. He was convicted for not declaring a gift received from an Arab prince which should have been handed over to Toshakhana or the government treasury. The ground for arrest may appear frivolous in a country where the standards of integrity in public life have always been questionable. However, Nawaz Sharif, the PML (N) leader was disqualified from participating in elections on a lesser charge. He was accused of not declaring income which he never received. His ouster paved the way for the rise of Imran Khan as prime minister with the Army’s backing. The clock has now turned full circle.

While civilian politicians are subject to accountability, Pakistan Army enjoys complete immunity from judicial processes. Imran Khan in his pre-recorded message before the arrest exhorted the people to stage peaceful protests. The protests have remained muted as compared to the events of 9th May, when the Lahore Corps Commander’s residence was ransacked and the Army GHQ attacked. This followed the arrest of large numbers of PTI workers and desertion by many senior leaders. The absence of reaction from the street this time may signal more trouble for Imran Khan. He can be prosecuted without fearing a reaction from his support base.

The arrest was followed by Shahbaz Sharif handing over his charge on 9th August. The notification for the dissolution of the National Assembly has also been issued after President Alvi approved PM Shehbaz Sharif’s recommendation.[1] The government has decided to hold parliamentary elections on the basis of a new census. This will be followed by the delimitation of constituencies. The PDM government and the Army want to buy time to let the dust settle. Pakistan’s political uncertainties have deepened.

The Army has to worry about Imran’s constituency in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They would not want his vote bank to resurrect the fortunes of PML (N). It has had an uncomfortable equation with Nawaz Sharif. His return to Pakistan and electoral politics is one of the goals being pursued by his daughter. The situation in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is more fragile. Imran Khan had cultivated the Taliban, which had earned him the moniker Taliban Khan. Afghan Taliban in power in Kabul has refused to hand over TTP leaders. Just a few days ago, there was a major terror attack in Bajaur district.

Pakistani establishment needs more time not only to settle the Imran question but also to fix the economy. The Stand-By Agreement with the IMF brought a $ 3 billion package, which helped it avert a default. But the arrangement comes with conditions for increasing the power tariff and reducing the fiscal deficit. This will require unpopular steps for which no political party is willing to take the blame. A Caretaker government is the ideal solution. Pakistan will continue to need support from IMF and bilateral donors the largest of which is China. China recently extended a loan of $ 4.8 billion for the Chashma 5 nuclear power plant[2] and rolled over a $ 2.4 billion loan for 2 years.[3]Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif acknowledged China’s role in the pushing IMF to provide $3 billion package under the Stand-By Arrangement.[4]

Removal of PTI, or at least Imran Khan from the political scene will open up a rift between the erstwhile partners within PDM. PML (N) and PPP have a long history of animosity. Bilawal Bhutto has been critical of Shehbaz Sharif’s neglect of Sindh. The province was worst affected by floods in 2022. The budget for the current year for Climate Change has been slashed by 58% of the last year’s level[5]while hiking up the defence allocation. The government’s decision to hold the next elections on the basis of the new census is being opposed by PPP. The move is strongly supported by MQM. The two find it difficult to share space in Sindh. MQM has progressively lost ground in its home state. This is the result of heavy social engineering by the Army since 2016 when Altaf Hussain called Pakistan a ‘cancer’ for the entire world.[6]

Imran Khan’s fatal mistake was to challenge the Army. He was the military’s creation and had enjoyed the patronage of General Zia. He supported Musharraf’s coup and was his returning officer in the 2002 elections. He changed course and criticized General Bajwa and General Asim. He was fond of describing PTI as the largest political party in Pakistan. He forgot that the largest party in his country was the Pakistani Army. Army’s role will increase under a Caretaker Government. There is considerable speculation about who will head the caretaker government. Personalities do not matter. Both Imran and Shehbaz Sharif accepted to work under Army’s tutelage. The unelected prime minister will have even less leeway. He will have to answer to two bosses – the Army and the IMF. In the meantime, China’s role in Pakistan will continue to grow.

Endnote

[1]Dawn, Govt tenure comes to end as President Alvi signs off on NA dissolution, August 9, 2023
[2]Business Recorder, Pakistan, China sign $ 4.8 billion Chashma Power Plant, June 21, 2023
[3]Business Recorder, China’s EXOM Bank has rolled over $ 2.4 billion EXIM loan, says Ishaq Dar, July 21, 2023
[4]Business Recorder, PM acknowledges China’s role in ceucial IMF SBA, August 10, 2023
[5]The Friday Times, Pakistani Political Crisis Distracts From Urgent Climate Challenges, August 5, 2023
[6]Dawn, What Altaf said….., August 23,2016

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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