Imran Khan faces ‘end of the road’ as Pakistan army cracks down

ISLAMABAD: Hiding in his fortified home in the upper part of Lahore Zaman Park, Imran Khan increasingly besieged and isolated as the Pakistani military instigates a sweeping crackdown against the former prime minister’s political party.
Following unprecedented attacks on military-owned properties and widespread protests after Khan was briefly jailed earlier this month, more than 10,000 people have links to Khan. Pakistan Tehreek—e-Insaf, or the Justice Movement, was arrested during police raids. Several prominent leaders are currently in prison, and more than two dozen PTI stalwarts left the party this week.
Publicly the military and government say they are responsible for anyone attacking state-owned property. Behind the scenes, however, there is a recognition that Khan’s popularity is unmatched and that his party must be downsized before an election in October at the latest, according to two people familiar with the speculation. military thinking.
Khan now risks the same fate as previous prime ministers who have been jailed, exiled or executed following power struggles with Pakistan’s generals. While military support was widely credited in bringing Khan to power in the last national elections in 2018, his current predicament stems from efforts to disrupt military hierarchy – a red line for Pakistan’s most powerful institution, which directly controls the nuclear weapons state. for most of its post-independence history.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a senior fellow at King’s College London and expert on the Pakistani military, said: “For now, this is the end for Imran Khan. go to his support facility?”
Khan’s ability to connect with the outside world and the marshal’s support had eroded. On Wednesday, the internet at his residence in Lahore was abruptly cut off ahead of a scheduled call with British lawmakers concerned about Pakistan’s deteriorating political, economic and security situation. Zulfi Bukhari, a close aide to Khan, told Bloomberg News that police had also assembled most of his armored vehicles, restricting his movement.
On Friday, a news release said Khan and his wife had been put on a no-fly list and banned from leaving the country. The former prime minister survived an assassination attempt late last year.
The Pakistani military did not respond to a request for comment.
Since being ousted from his post as prime minister last year following a vote of no confidence in parliament, Khan has campaigned relentlessly for new elections. He has criticized the unwieldy coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – who is seen as more submissive to the military even though his brother was once ousted in a coup – as a corrupt force. of self-serving dynastic parties.
His charisma, his people’s qualities, his past victories and more recently his devout religion – despite his elite upbringing and previous playboy lifestyle – have caused his popularity to skyrocket in popularity. Pakistani society, including many ranks of the military. An opinion poll released by Gallup earlier this year showed that Khan’s approval rating jumped to 61% in February from 36% in January last year, while Sharif’s approval rating dropped to 32%. from 51% at the time.
That poses a major dilemma for the military. According to Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a senior associate at the Royal Institute for Defense and Security Studies, Khan will win the election by a landslide if there is no “credible alternative” to the military.
With more than 240 million Pakistanis grappling with record inflation and the country on the brink of default as bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund stall, the military is unlikely to overturn. overthrow the elected government and take direct control. The leader of Pakistan’s last coup, General Pervez Musharraf, resigned 15 years ago as an unpopular and deeply diminished figure.
The Pakistani rupee slipped to a record low of 299 to the dollar this month while dollar bonds traded at a tough spot. The coin has depreciated by about 20% this year, making it among the worst in the world.
Willasey-Wilsey said: “The problem with the military is that any measures against Imran will increase his popularity. “It could also lead to a split among Corps Commanders, who will worry about the military alienating the people – the military will certainly consider intervention options before a coup, including including delaying the election.”
Khan’s relationship with the military was not always so difficult. After coming to power, he openly acknowledged that the forces, which enjoy huge defense budgets and wide-ranging business interests across Pakistan, had a role to play in running the country. But that relationship began to fracture in 2021 as Khan’s anti-American rhetoric pushed the country further away from the US as the economy faltered, drawing Islamabad closer to Russia and China.
Ultimately, it was Khan’s attempt to control military promotions that led to the escalation of tensions. He publicly opposed the choice of then-Army Chief of Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to head Pakistan’s fearsome spy agency, voicing support for one of his allies to continue in the role. . Bajwa was ultimately successful, but the incident sowed the seeds for Khan’s overthrow.
strained relationship
Farzana Shaikh, a collaborator at London’s, said: “He miscalculated when he again sought to interfere and interfere with the business of military appointments – of course, as in the past, that’s the only area the military enviously considers their prerogative.” Chatham House Research Institute. “It’s a habit, we’ve been here before. Other parties have also been divided and divided under pressure from the military establishment.”
His relationship with Bajwa’s successor, General Asim Munir, was also strained. As prime minister, Khan removed Munir from his role as intelligence chief. Khan recently magnified the issue by personally blaming the recent turmoil on Munir’s thirst for power, and on Monday likened the situation in Pakistan to the rise of Adolf Hitler to the 1930s.
Hours after the government said this week that it was considering a ban on its PTI because of attacks on military offices and buildings, Khan struck a more conciliatory tone. He offered to hold talks with Sharif’s administration and the military, saying he was ready to form a committee to talk to “whoever is in power today”.
Bukhari, Khan’s aide, said: “It’s important to have a political dialogue between people. “At some point, the two most powerful people in the country, the army chief of staff and Imran Khan, have to sit down and discuss a way forward.”
Any such talks for Khan would now likely come from a relatively weak position. Public sympathy for the military has also grown since the attacks on military property and officers’ homes.
In the port city of Karachi, Pakistan’s business hub, giant banners and posters – some covering the entire length of multi-storey buildings – proclaim “Long live Pakistan” and “Long live the soldier”. “. Others have Munir beside his officers. Trade associations have staged protests in support of the armed forces, while TV and movie stars have taken to social media to express their love and support for the military.
According to a document shared by PTI, 16 people accused of participating in violence targeting military buildings have been turned over to military courts.
According to Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, the tactics against Khan are “a page in the usual military playbook” in dealing with dissident politicians and parties.
“If this is history repeating itself with military assertiveness, then it doesn’t look good for Imran Khan, his party, or for Pakistan’s democracy,” she said.


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