Is Imran Khan in trouble?

One thing is certain arrest of Imran Khan or his disqualification, would not ease the already tense political environment

Mazhar Abbas
Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan. — Instagram/@imrankhan.pti
Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan. — Instagram/@imrankhan.pti

As we celebrate Pakistan's 75th ‘Youm-e-Azadi’ the country is still far from political and economic stability.

The present political crisis that emerged in April, at a time when the third consecutive civilian government had one and half years left to complete its full term in office, has raised serious questions about where we are headed as a country.

None of our previous prime ministers could complete their terms. Yusuf Raza Gillani and Nawaz Sharif faced disqualification and their remaining terms were completed by makeshift premiers, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Imran Khan could have become the first prime minister to complete his full five years in office had his government survived till August 2023. But now he too is facing disqualification, as a petition has already been filed against him.

What happened in the last few days clearly indicates that all is not well for Khan.

This week, his party’s chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, was arrested on serious sedition charges after he gave a controversial interview on a private TV channel. The channel has also landed in trouble with its NOC revoked by the interior ministry and cases have been registered against its anchors and CEO.

This all began when Khan was removed from power in April through a vote of no confidence, which he claims was part of a US conspiracy to oust him. What happened between March 8 and April 10 resulted in serious distrust between Khan and the establishment, which was already brewing when in October 2021, he delayed the transfer of the former intelligence chief, Lt. General Faiz Hameed.

Down but not out, Khan then surprised everyone by bagging a majority of the 20 constituencies in Punjab, which were up for by-election in July. This gave him more confidence and he now has a government in two provinces of the country.

But Khan’s relationship with the establishment continues to deteriorate, as before the by-elections his party even named an intelligence officer for trying to manipulate the elections. While in several rallies the former prime minister has openly criticized the establishment's “neutral” role.

Khan is also facing multiple cases post his May 25 long march and now the government has also filed a petition for his disqualification before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) under Article 62-1(f) for not declaring the ‘gifts’, which he allegedly sold from Toshakhana. Besides, the government also seems desperate to declare PTI ‘a foreign-aided party’ after the verdict of the ECP.

But the PTI chairman and former prime minister has rejected all these cases and is confident that he would be cleared from all charges.

His popularity graph has surely gone up as compared to what it was before March, but in Pakistani politics mere popularity hardly matters irrespective of how strong and popular your narrative is. Will Khan be able to bounce back to power in the next election, with only the support of his voter and supporters, is the million-dollar question?

If he does, there is little doubt that he would go into history as Pakistan’s most powerful leader.

A close aide of Khan told me recently that although the PTI is in control of 80% of Pakistan, with governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, they still want early general elections because of the deteriorating economic conditions and political instability. He added that the political forces should initiate dialogue

It is likely that elections will be held as per schedule in October 2023, but some major political developments could take place after August. That too depends on how Khan and PTI mend their differences with the power that be or whether will they continue on the current path.

Important appointments by the end of October or the first week of November could set the tone for the future political setup in the country.

But one thing is certain though, the arrest of Khan or his disqualification or a ban on the PTI, would not ease the already tense political environment and deep economic crisis.

Mazhar Abbas is a journalist, columnist, and analyst at Geo, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO