Even before Imran Khan was removed from office as Pakistan’s prime minister by a parliamentary vote of no-confidence on April 9, Imran Khan turned up the insults. In the weeks before that, he used large, professionally staged rallies for his centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to rage against political rivals, whom he accused of planning a U.S.-backed coup to depose him. In recent weeks, as the cricketing legend has turned his wrath on the military institution that supported his political ascent before deserting him, these protests have only gotten bigger and more venomous.
After giving a speech in Islamabad on Saturday in which he threatened to sue police officers and a female judge over the arrest and alleged torture of a close aide, things reached a breaking point on Sunday when authorities charged Imran Khan under anti-terror laws.
Imran Khan has not yet been arrested, and if he is, his fans have pledged to hold a large-scale protest. The country could experience an increased danger of political violence in large cities if Imran Khan is detained, according to Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “Imran Khan enjoys support from a fervent base of supporters who will not sit still.”
Shahbaz Gill, a former cabinet minister, and Imran Khan’s assistant was at the center of the controversy when he urged soldiers earlier this month to disregard “illegal instructions” from their military commanders in a televised address. Gill believes he was tortured while being interrogated and was charged with sedition, a crime that carries the death penalty. (A top PTI official provided pictures of alleged bruises Gill received while detained, but TIME was unable to independently verify the details.)
Imran Khan defended his friend by denouncing the court and the inspector general of the Pakistani police force, who were judged in charge of ordering Gill’s detention. Khan allegedly said, “You also get ready for it. We will also take action against you. “You must all feel humiliated.
Following those remarks and threats to sue the judge and the police, Pakistan’s judiciary declared him guilty and filed charges against him. Imran Khan, though, was given “protective bail” by the Islamabad High Court until Thursday, preventing his potential arrest for the time being.
In any case, the national regulator accused Khan of making “baseless claims” against the government and “promoting hate speech,” and as a result, his lectures have been barred from live satellite television broadcasts inside Pakistan. Objections to the directive have come from all sides of the political spectrum. Farhatullah Babar, a former senator from Pakistan and member of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party’s center-left, said on Twitter that “totally banning a political leader from the media is not the greatest tactic” (PPP). “It runs the risk of unintentionally and unjustly making someone bigger than life.”
Furthermore, it’s unclear how effective a ban like that would be. Imran Khan has more than 17 million Twitter followers, which is more than many of Pakistan’s leading nightly news programmers have viewers. In an apparent effort to censor a live address he was giving on Sunday in the northern city of Rawalpindi, YouTube access was disrupted nationwide.
Imran Khan’s situation is undoubtedly only the latest example of how Pakistan
Nuclear power veers from crisis to crisis with potentially serious repercussions for regional and global security. The 230 million-person country is plagued by rampant inflation that reached 24.9% in July, a government that has failed to boost the economy, and a heavy-handed approach to opponents on top of a highly polarised political atmosphere. The IMF is scheduled to convene on August 29 to discuss another bailout. However, the threat of political disturbance raises the possibility of further economic instability. No matter how you look at it, Pakistan is in a very unstable and unsettling situation right now, claims Kugelman.
Is the Pakistani military preparing to take action against Imran khan?
With regards to neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been back in power for a year, despite their frequently tense relationship, Pakistan is a crucial security ally for the U.S.
This crucial security system is undermined by the instability engulfing Pakistan, including rumors of divisions between Khan-supporting and Khan-opposing military elements. On August 10, the Pakistani Taliban declared that it had retaken control of a section of the remote Swat district. Being divided and preoccupied at this moment puts Pakistan’s military in a perilous position.
Samina Yasmeen, director of the Center for the Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, believes that the new government of Shahbaz Sharif, the center-right PML-N party’s leader and brother of Imran Khan’s longtime foe Nawaz Sharif, has made the mistake of allowing Khan to “whip up hysteria” but now faces “even more instability” due to its clumsy crackdown. It’s more complicated than just Pakistan having nuclear weapons, she adds. It’s that there are a lot of people in this state. You have no idea where it’s going to go if there are conflicts.
The fact that Imran Khan has toned down his anti-American tirades in recent weeks suggests that he may be willing to repair his relationship with Washington should he manage a miracle comeback to power. Instead, he has intensified his attacks on the military, which he has mockingly referred to as “neutrals” in response to claims made by brass hats that they don’t interfere in politics. Even leaders of the ruling PML-N have now embraced the expression, highlighting how the generals who have ruled Pakistan for half of its 75-year history continue to be kingmakers.
The allegations against Khan have stoked his followers’ animosity toward General Qamar Javed Bajwa of the Pakistani Army, who they feel was a major factor in the 69-year-old Khan’s removal from office. One of the most stunning lessons from this ongoing tale, according to Kugelman, is how Bajwa went from being revered to despise in the eyes of Khan’s fans.
Of course, the truth is that Khan’s rise to power was made possible by the military’s assistance and that when they withdrew that support, he lost that support and his power. The generals’ standing has generally suffered throughout the political spectrum. Early in August, a helicopter crash claimed the lives of six senior army officials, among them a top general. The overwhelming response on social media was anything but empathetic, with many users mockingly expressing sympathy for the aircraft rather than the victims.
Rarely has Pakistani society been more divided, with one half of the nation viewing Khan as its savior and the other as the embodiment of evil. Yasmeen claims that what he has done is split the nation. “It’s extremely similar to Trump [in the United States]. How can a nation like Pakistan recover if the United States still hasn’t fully recovered?
The question is whether the generals will remain silent if massive demonstrations break out amid an impending economic disaster. Most recently, in 1999, the Pakistani military willingly took over when they believed that things were getting out of hand. However, the generals discovered that they preferred to operate covertly. If this viewpoint has altered, that is the question. I don’t see the military taking over, but a part of me wonders whether there might be some [in the army] who believe it would be the proper thing since things have become so awful.