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

ISLAMABAD: Holed up at his fortified house in Lahore’s upmarket Zaman Park, Imran Khan is wanting more and more besieged and remoted as Pakistan’s navy instigates a sweeping crackdown in opposition to the previous prime minister’s political celebration.
Following unprecedented assaults in opposition to military-owned properties and widespread protests after Khan was briefly jailed earlier this month, greater than 10,000 individuals linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek—e-Insaf, or Motion for Justice, have been arrested in police raids. A number of outstanding leaders are actually in jail and greater than two dozen PTI stalwarts have stop the celebration this week.
Publicly the military and the federal government say they’re holding accountable anybody who attacked state-owned property. Behind the scenes, nevertheless, there’s a recognition that Khan’s recognition is unmatched and his celebration have to be reduce all the way down to measurement forward of elections due in October on the newest, in response to two individuals accustomed to the navy’s considering.
Khan now dangers assembly an identical destiny as earlier prime ministers who’ve been jailed, exiled or executed following energy struggles with Pakistan’s generals. Though military assist was extensively credited in bringing Khan to workplace within the final nationwide election in 2018, his present predicament stems from his makes an attempt to mess with navy hierarchy — a pink line for Pakistan’s strongest establishment, which has straight managed the nuclear-armed nation for a lot of its post-independence historical past.
For now, “that is the top of the street for Imran Khan,” stated Ayesha Siddiqa, a senior fellow at King’s School London and knowledgeable on Pakistan’s navy. “The query is will they have the ability to take away his assist base?”
Khan’s skill to attach with the skin world and marshal assist is already being eroded. On Wednesday, the web at his Lahore residence was abruptly reduce off earlier than a scheduled name with British lawmakers involved about Pakistan’s deteriorating political, financial and safety state of affairs. Police have additionally compounded most of his armored vehicles, limiting his actions, Zulfi Bukhari, an in depth aide to Khan, instructed Bloomberg Information.
On Friday, a information report stated Khan and his spouse had been positioned on a no-fly listing and have been barred from leaving the nation. The previous premier survived an assassination try late final yr.
Pakistan’s navy didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Since his ousting as prime minister final yr following a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Khan has campaigned relentlessly for contemporary elections. He has blasted the unwieldy coalition headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif — who’s seen as extra amenable to the military although his brother was as soon as ousted in a coup — as a corrupt drive of self-serving dynastic events.
Khan’s charismatic, everyman high quality, previous cricketing victories and more moderen embrace of pious faith — regardless of his elite upbringing and earlier playboy life-style — has seen his recognition soar throughout Pakistani society, together with most of the military’s rank-and-file. An opinion ballot revealed by Gallup earlier this yr discovered that Khan’s approval ranking jumped to 61% in February from 36% in January final yr, whereas Sharif’s fell to 32% from 51% in that point.
That poses a serious dilemma for the navy brass. Khan would win an election by a landslide with no “credible various” for the military to again, in response to Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a senior affiliate fellow on the Royal United Companies Institute for Defence and Safety Research in London.
With Pakistan’s greater than 240 million individuals grappling with file inflation and the nation on the verge of default because of stalled bailout talks with the Worldwide Financial Fund, the navy is unlikely as well out the elected authorities and take direct management. Pakistan’s final coup chief, Common Pervez Musharraf, stepped down as a deeply unpopular and diminished determine fifteen years in the past.
Pakistan’s rupee slid to a record-low 299 per greenback this month whereas greenback bonds are buying and selling at distressed ranges. The foreign money has misplaced about 20% this yr, among the many worst performers on the planet.
“The military’s downside is that each measure in opposition to Imran will add to his recognition,” stated Willasey-Wilsey. “It might additionally result in divisions amongst the Corps Commanders who will likely be anxious about alienating the military from the individuals — the military will likely ponder intervention choices in need of a coup, together with delaying elections.”
Khan’s relationship with the navy wasn’t at all times so fractious. After coming to energy he brazenly conceded that the forces, which get pleasure from an over-sized protection funds and wide-ranging enterprise pursuits throughout Pakistan, had a task to play in governing the nation. However that relationship started unraveling in 2021 as Khan’s anti-American rhetoric pushed the nation additional away from the US because the economic system deteriorated, drawing Islamabad nearer to Russia and China.
Finally it was Khan’s try to regulate navy promotions that escalated tensions. He publicly opposed then Chief of Military Workers Qamar Javed Bajwa’s selection for the top of Pakistan’s feared spy company, voicing assist for considered one of his personal allies to remain within the function. Bajwa finally obtained his means, however the incident sowed the seeds for Khan’s ouster.
Fraught relations
“He miscalculated by in search of as soon as once more to intervene and intervene within the enterprise of navy appointments — in fact that, as prior to now, is the one space that the navy guards jealously as its prerogative,” stated Farzana Shaikh, an affiliate fellow at London’s Chatham Home analysis institute. “It’s a well-recognized routine, we’ve been right here earlier than. Different events have additionally splintered and fragmented below stress from the navy institution.”
His relationship with Bajwa’s successor, Common Asim Munir, was additionally fraught. As prime minister, Khan had eliminated Munir from the function of intelligence chief. Khan extra not too long ago infected issues by personally blaming the latest turmoil on Munir’s need for energy, and on Monday he likened the state of affairs in Pakistan to Adolf Hitler’s rise within the Nineteen Thirties.
Hours after the federal government stated this week it was contemplating a ban on his PTI over the assaults on navy workplaces and buildings, Khan struck a extra conciliatory tone. He supplied to carry talks with Sharif’s administration and the navy, saying he is able to kind a committee to speak with “anybody who’s in energy at the moment.”
“What’s essential is there to be a political dialog between everyone,” stated Khan’s aide Bukhari. “Then additionally at some stage, the 2 strongest individuals within the nation, the chief of military workers and Imran Khan, have to sit down down and talk about a means ahead.”
Any such negotiation for Khan will doubtless now come from a place of relative weak point. Public sympathy for the navy has additionally risen for the reason that assaults on military property and officer’s houses.
Within the port metropolis of Karachi, Pakistan’s enterprise hub, large banners and posters — some masking all the size of multistory buildings — declare “Lengthy Dwell Pakistan” and “Lengthy Dwell the Soldier.” Others function Munir flanked by his officers. Commerce associations have performed rallies in assist of the armed forces, whereas tv and movie stars have taken to social media to declare their love and assist for the navy.
Sixteen individuals accused of participating within the violence that focused military buildings have been handed over to navy courts, in response to a doc shared by the PTI.
The ways in opposition to Khan are “a web page out of the navy’s standard playbook” in coping with dissenting politicians and events, in response to Madiha Afzal, a fellow on the Brookings Establishment in Washington.
“If that is historical past repeating itself with the navy’s assertiveness,” she stated, “it’s not wanting good for Imran Khan, his celebration, or for Pakistan’s democracy.”

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