Imran Khan’s conviction and his three-year jail term in a corruption case have cleared a “major hurdle” in holding general elections in Pakistan and will help the ruling PML-N and the powerful military establishment to get the “desired results” in the polls, some analysts and political leaders believe.
Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said after the arrest of Khan, 70, “Both the ruling PML-N and the military establishment appear to be on the same page.”
Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif last week told leaders of the allied parties he would send advice to the president for the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9.
The election is set to be delayed for a couple of months because of census findings and redrawing of constituencies, Rizvi said, adding that barring that, there was no other “major hurdle”.
A senior PML-N leader in Punjab said Khan’s arrest paved the way for general elections to be held imminently.
“There was an apprehension both in the establishment and PML-N that as long as Khan is a free man, it will not be easy to contain him in polls. Therefore, his arrest was a prerequisite to the polls… otherwise delay was imminent,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Khan can no longer retain the post of party chief after his conviction in the Toshakhana case, said Zulfiqar Ahmad Bhutta, an eminent lawyer of the Supreme Court.
Bhutta added that the conviction has “sealed” Khan’s fate as the party chairman, according to a judgment by the Supreme Court on a constitutional petition filed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the past.
“He will not be able to maintain his position as the chairman of his political party due to his involvement. Imran Khan’s status as PTI chairman has ended automatically in view of a previous Supreme Court ruling,” Bhutta told The News.
Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha linked the dramatic rise and fall of Khan to his relationship with the country’s powerful military establishment.
“The so-called ‘Imran Khan Project’ has been systematically dismantled by the same army institution that had first launched it with great fanfare in 2011,” he said.
Paracha said Khan had networked with former military personnel since the days when he formed a lobby with the former ISI chief Hamid Gul in 1994.
Khan then formed his own party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996; however, till 2011, it remained a tiny outfit with a small vote bank.
In 2011, the military establishment aided Khan in holding a massive public rally in Lahore that launched him as a potential third political force in Pakistan after the PML-N and the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party).
Currently, the PTI is the most popular party in the country.
Paracha said it was during Khan’s 2014 sit-in against the PML-N regime that helped him fully mould his image as an ‘incorruptible leader’ with a vision to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state.
In 2018, with the help of his friends in the military establishment, Khan won a slight majority and formed a coalition government.
Paracha said, “It was an instant disaster. He wasn’t a politician. He was a handsome spiritual leader of a constituency that identified with him entirely on an emotional level. His numerous blunders finally saw the military distancing itself from him, especially when reports of mass-scale corruption by his government began to leak out.
“After his ouster in 2022, he did not retreat to lick his wounds and reassess his strategy. Instead, the slow-motion trainwreck that was his regime gained pace after his ouster, until crashing his party and his political career at the hands of the military.”
The May 9 attacks on the military and state buildings by the PTI workers in reaction to their leader Khan’s arrest were cited as big blunders.
His party workers vandalised over 20 military installations and government buildings, including the Lahore Corps Commander House, Mianwali airbase and the ISI building in Faisalabad.
The Army headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi was also attacked by the mob for the first time.
Following the protests, police arrested over 10,000 PTI supporters inducing women under terrorism charges. Some of them are being tried under the Army Act.
Khan faces more than 140 cases across the country and faces charges like terrorism, violence, blasphemy, corruption and murder.
The Dawn newspaper, in an editorial, noted that Pakistan’s twisted political saga continues without the slightest deviation from a tired and predictable script.
“The fate of a politician rests in the hands of their constituency, and no amount of external interference can change this simple relationship,” it added.