How Imran Khan emerged as anti-establishment hero of Pakistan

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By: TNI Team
Updated: 18 March, 2023 5:19 pm IST
Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan appeared before Lahore High Court amid high drama

In a crisis-torn Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan has emerged as a hope for people. His popularity has strangely gone up ever since he was removed from the PM’s position in 2022 after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership.

The impact the leader has on the polity of Pakistan is clear from the fact that the telecast of his court appearance in the alleged Toshakhana corruption case has been banned.

Major drama was witnessed at his residence, as Police landed at his doorstep to arrest him. A district and sessions court in Islamabad issued a non-bailable warrant against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in a case pertaining to using threatening language against a woman additional district and sessions judge and senior police officials.

In August last year, Khan condemned the alleged custodial torture of his aide Shahbaz Gill and said that his party will file cases against Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr. Akbar Nasir Khan.

Following his comments, Khan was booked under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Moreover, the Islamabad High Court also initiated contempt proceedings against him. These charges were later dropped.

After the arrest warrant was issued, a police party from Islamabad flew to Lahore to arrest Khan.

On Monday, Khan led a march of thousands of his supporters as Islamabad police arrived in Lahore to arrest him after two non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against him.

The courts of Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal, which heard the Toshakhana case issued an arrest warrant for Khan and instructed the police to present him before the court on March 18.

Khan is accused of buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch he had received as the premier, at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana and selling them for profit.

While armed police vehicles arrived outside Imran Khan’s residence in Lahore to arrest him, they met with strong resistance from PTI workers. The law enforcement personnel retreated after party supporters pelted stones at them. Subsequently, celebrations erupted outside Khan’s Zaman Park residence as party workers took control of the area after a long face-off with the police.

Several were injured on both sides as Pakistani police and Khan’s supporters clashed on Tuesday outside the former prime minister’s home in the eastern city of Lahore. Following the drama, protests broke out in Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad.

After law enforcement agencies pulled back from Khan’s residence in Lahore on Wednesday, PTI supporters outside Zaman Park cheered and celebrated ‘chasing Rangers away’. Khan shared photos and videos on Twitter of live round casings purportedly fired outside his Zaman Park residence, and accused law enforcement of firing on unarmed citizens.

He also claimed that the “real intent” of the police was not just to arrest him but to “abduct and assassinate’’.

Khan has accused the government of trying to arrest him as a ploy to stop him from competing in a general election this year. “The reason why this is happening is not that I broke any law. They want me in jail so that I cannot contest elections,’’ he said.

Since his ouster, Imran initially claimed to be the martyr of a foreign conspiracy against him, and as Shahbaz Sharif reigned, his cry against the nexus between corrupt politicians and the army establishment has grown shriller. But no matter what the establishment tried to do to counter Imran’s rhetoric, Khan found ways to outsmart and outmaneuver them.

Experts believe that Khan has attempted to divide the ranks of the Army to weaken the army narrative against him which is the main reason behind the electrifying showdown between him and the establishment.

While criticizing the DG-ISI and terming him Dirty Harry (the Evil General), Khan drew parallels by declaring COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa as a Good General who is being misled by the Evil General.

In November last year, Khan was shot in the leg by a gunman while giving a speech to supporters at a rally in Wazirabad, Punjab, and leading a march to the capital Islamabad to demand snap elections after he was ousted as the Prime Minister.

A day after getting shot, Imran Khan proclaimed himself to be a martyr with a mission of a holy cause to root out political evil and blamed Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, his interior minister Rana Sanaullah and ISI’s Major General Faisal Naseer for the failed plot. The Pakistani army, which was once believed to be ruthless in maintaining control, now stands defeated at the hands of politicians like Khan. It only had to wink, nod, and sometimes nudge, and most of the Pakistani media would fall in line. If they didn’t, they might end up in jail, exile, or a corpse in a gutter.

In October 2022, Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif was fired and exiled, as was his boss. Sharif turned up dead in Kenya, apparently shot by the police in a matter of mistaken identity. After every assassination attempt by the ISI, either the target went six feet under, or those who survived became perfectly well-behaved and toed the establishment’s line.

The military had anticipated that Khan, once out of office, would follow the rules and would leave Pakistan if defeated, however, it has not happened so far.

Analysts believe that Khan’s tirade against the establishment has turned out to be so strong that it has pushed the Pakistani establishment towards the wall and brought the country towards anarchy and violence.

There is a notion among experts and observers that Khan has dealt the political cards with strong hands, and is protected by someone very powerful in the establishment itself, including the ISI and the Pakistani Army.

Most scholars believe that a faction of the establishment is behind Khan and this is one of the reasons that not only Khan has survived the wrath of the establishment, but has also gained traction among people on the ground.

Two possible outcomes are predicted by the experts. One is a military takeover, which would set the country back decades, the other is free and fair elections, which experts believe might result in a win for Khan. It remains to be seen if Khan is left free to campaign for the crucial elections.

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