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The Impact of Imran Khan’s Arrest on Pakistan’s Upcoming Election and Former Prime Minister


Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was arrested amid chaotic scenes on May 9, 2023, as he appears in court on corruption charges.

Khan, who was removed from power in April 2022, has denied any allegations and has called on supporters to protest his detention.

The conversation asked Ayesha Jalal, a professor of Pakistani history at Tufts Universityto explain what the arrest means for the country’s politics.

What’s behind Khan’s arrest?

The first thing you notice is that Khan was arrested by the Pakistan Rangers instead of the police. The Rangers, a paramilitary force, are mostly deployed for internal security issues And surrounded Khan while wearing riot gear during surgery.

The arrest follows an earlier order from the National Accountability Bureau, which is charged with investigating corruption cases. But it is not entirely clear why the paramilitary forces were needed to carry out the arrest.

The allegations that led to the arrest relate to a dark corruption case involved in the alleged payment of 5 billion rupees (US$17.5 million) to Khan and his wife for legalizing a laundered sum of money for the couple’s Al-Qadir Trust. It is alleged that land and money came from real estate tycoon Malik Riaz after the then Khan government helped Riaz in 2019 in a case involving money being repatriated to Pakistan following a British investigation into the tycoon.

Khan denies the allegations, with a close associate of the opposition leader accusing the government of “state terrorismabout the kidnapping. But it’s just one of many legal challenges Khan faces. In fact, he faces dozens of corruption and other charges, even terrorism. But I must add that allegations of bribery against politicians and even former prime ministers are far from uncommon in Pakistan.

Why were paramilitary Rangers involved?

That’s not entirely clear. The police had earlier tried to arrest Khan in Lahore. But calling in the Rangers indicates that the military establishment is behind the arrest, or at least certainly agrees with it.

Nothing is happening in Pakistani politics without military intervention, so maybe that’s not too surprising. And it is noteworthy that the arrest took place a day after the Inter-Services Public Relations – the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces – denounced Khan for claim that a high general tried to kill him twice and played a part in the murder of a broadcast journalist, seemingly without evidence.

What was the reaction to Khan’s arrest?

Supporters of the former prime minister and cricket star have said all along that arresting Khan would be a common thread. So of course, there have been protestssome of which have turned violent.

You should not forget that Khan has a strong following, but the country is very fragmented politically. So it is a dangerous situation.

My fear is that the arrest will only add more fuel to a combustible situation. Pakistan has been simmering since Khan’s ousting in 2022with the very real threat of political tension giving way to widespread violence.

What was needed was for everyone involved to try to lower the temperature, but the circumstances of Khan’s arrest have only increased tensions.

How does the arrest reflect on the current government?

The optics are bad for the Pakistani government. Many in Pakistan will view this as a form of political harassment, regardless of the merits of the case and the strength of the evidence against Khan.

It also reinforces the view that the National Accountability Office is a tool for the serving government to prosecute political opponents. Khan’s government used the agency itself when it arrested opposition leader Shahbaz Sharifthe current Prime Minister, in connection with a corruption case.

More worryingly, the arrest could be a precursor to an attempt to disqualify Khan from holding public office – which I believe would be a very dangerous move in an election year.

And all this comes as the incumbent government faces major challenges unable to contain rising inflation or making progress on a crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund to lift the country out of its economic woes.

How does this affect Khan’s popularity?

In the short term, this could increase its popularity even further. Khan portrays himself as an anti-establishment figure, despite once being a beneficiary of the establishment himself. Anyway, stories against the established order work well with parts of the Pakistani population.

Since being removed from power, Khan has been busy rallying his base – even surviving an apparent assassination attempt during his campaign. a March 2023 poll showed that he is by far the most popular political leader in the country, far ahead of Sharif and his brother, as well as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

What does this mean for the upcoming elections?

We’ll have to see. Elections are expected to take place in October, although Khan has repeatedly done so requested an early vote order as soon as possible.

Much, of course, depends on whether Khan is allowed to run, or whether the government will try to find a way to disqualify him.

If it finds a way to dissuade Khan from taking part, the government is mistaken in thinking that the opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, would be easier to handle without Khan. Khan himself anticipated this in a March interview with NPR: “I don’t know if they will eventually disqualify me, but it doesn’t matter, because the party I now lead has a wave of popularity that is unprecedented in our history. So whether I’m in jail or not, the party is going to win the election anyway.”

But this is a situation that is still unfolding. Anything can happen in Pakistani politics between now and the election – whenever that will be.

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