‘Aapne Ghabrana Hai': Arrested Without Protests, What Next for Imran Khan?

With over 100 cases against him and an exodus of PTI party leaders, the road does not appear easy for Imran Khan.

7 min read
Hindi Female

“Being arrested in countries like Pakistan is like a badge of honour for politicians, mainly because the incarcerations were ordered by dictators,” Pakistani journalist Lubna Jerar Naqvi told The Quint, a few days after an anti-graft agency arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case.

Currently, Khan is being held in Attock, a facility notorious for housing convicted militants and violent offenders. Sources familiar with the situation report that he has been assigned his own cell with amenities like a fan and private bathing facilities, a notable improvement compared to the generally harsh conditions in the prison.

This situation sharply contrasts with Khan's brief detention in May, when he was forcefully taken from a court hearing on different corruption charges by the National Accountability Bureau.

But that is not all. This arrest saw a notable absence of significant protests, in stark contrast to a month prior, when his arrest from an Islamabad court on 9 May triggered widespread demonstrations throughout the country, some of which escalated into clashes between his supporters and security forces.

With over 100 cases against him and a recent exodus of top leaders from the PTI party after the 9 May violence, the road does not appear easy for Khan or the Tehreek-e-Insaf.


What Does This Mean for Imran Khan?

The Appeal: A PTI member told The Quint that Khan’s lawyers had filed an appeal in a superior court, hoping for relief, and Babr Awan, who is a part of the former PM’s legal team, said that the decision was a “ridiculous verdict by a sham court”.

“Imran Khan was not given a fair trial, which according to the country’s constitution is the right of every citizen,” Awan said, and added that Pakistan’s laws do not allow trials to be held in abstentia and said that Khan was absent during the hearing.

The lawyer further said that following their appeal, they are expecting a “suspension of the verdict and early release of Imran Khan.”

Elections: In all likelihood, without relief from the high court, the arrest marks the end of any hopes Imran Khan had of contesting the upcoming general elections since any person convicted of a criminal offence is disqualified and cannot contest elections in Pakistan.

If the high court rejects Khan’s appeal, Khan would only be able to return to politics after five years. However, it’s worth noting that this conviction is in one of at least 150 cases against Imran Khan, ranging from charges of terrorism, blasphemy and corruption to attempted murder, foreign funding and contempt.

"The list states that 31 cases have been registered against Khan in the federal capital and 30 cases and call-up notices have been issued in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province...According to the list, 12 cases of terrorism have been registered against Imran in Lahore, and 14 cases have been registered in Faisalabad. Some 22 terrorism cases have been registered against Imran Khan across the country,” the PTI said.

In addition to the Toshakhana case, Khan and PTI leaders are also implicated in another inquiry by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

"The former prime minister, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and other PTI leaders, are facing a NAB inquiry related to a settlement between the PTI government and a property tycoon, which reportedly caused a loss of 190 million pounds to the national exchequer," reported PTI.

However, the timing of Imran Khan’s judgement is of key importance, given that Pakistan is still slated to hold general elections in three months.

Moreover, while a general election is due to be held by mid-November, the Pakistan parliament will likely be dissolved by PM Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday, 9 August, just before the completion of his term, prompting a general election in the next 90 days.

On Sunday, 6 August, Sharif addressed a rally in the Punjab province and said:

“I will dissolve my government and the National Assembly on 9 August... The rest is in the hands of Allah the almighty. After that, an interim government will take over, and elections will be held."

Polls could also be delayed following the release of the country’s latest census results on Saturday, which necessitates the redrawing of constituencies under Pakistani law. But this in no way means that the PTI will not put up a fight in the polls.

Rather, Imran Khan’s arrest, which further fed into his adopted persona of a flagbearer of Pakistan’s freedoms and impoverished, could win his party greater electoral support in the elections – whenever they take place.

Political analyst Azim Chaudhry said:

"The next elections are likely to be held without the active participation of Imran Khan, but even from jail, he has the potential to effectively run a campaign for his candidates.”

What Next for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf? 

Lubna Jerar Naqvi told The Quint that since the PTI is a relatively new political party with a large support bank mainly composed of Imran Khan supporters, added that “Imran Khan has not lost any of his support, in fact, his fan base is as strong as ever.”  

They are not openly protesting but are supporting him quietly. The supporters want PTI to be back in power but with Imran Khan at the helm,” she said and added:   

“His supporters do not believe rioters on May 9 were PTI supporters but were planted by the establishment. However, some experts believe PTI supporters may not come out to vote in large numbers for other PTI leaders as they would have if Imran Khan was in the field.”   

A member of the PTI, requesting that he be referred to as Abdul, claimed that Khan has only gained popularity across the party and in Pakistan as well.   

“The people claiming that we do not support Khan Sahab want you to believe that we have given up on him after the events of 9 May, but we are standing behind him, supporting him and voting for the PTI as we would if he was present,” Abdul told The Quint.   

“If you speak to the government ministers, they will claim that the entire party is unwilling to be associated with Khan Sahab, as they have in the past. But that is not how the party and its supporters feel.”  

However, The Quint was told by a top executive of the PTI’s social media, who claimed that they had seen a sharp drop-in online support for Khan and the PTI out of fear that they would be picked up or arrested.   

Moreover, the PTI is a party which has been centred around Imran Khan and his persona, most proven by their voting symbol - a bat.  

Speaking to The Quint, Naqvi agreed and said, “PTI was Imran Khan – a one-man party, and the supporters converged to it because of him. The other leaders had left other parties to join PTI, they don’t have the same value as Khan.   


‘Why Would Anybody Try To Protest?’: Behind the Lack of Protests in Pakistan?

However, despite Khan's popularity and support for the former Prime Minister, his influence did not translate to the streets of Pakistan on 9 May. Tens of thousands of Khan's followers went on a rampage in various cities, causing damage to military and government property based on his directives. The government responded with a crackdown, leading to the arrest of over 7,000 individuals, and some of these cases are still ongoing.  

In contrast, the response to Khan's recent arrest was comparatively subdued, likely due to concerns about facing another government crackdown. Despite Khan's calls for peaceful protests, they failed to garner widespread backing.  

Speaking to The Quint, Pakistani journalist and rights activist Gul Bukhari alleged that since one cannot predict his own arrest, the PTI’s members were instructed to resort to violence in areas across the country, such as the Corps commander’s home, the Army’s General Headquarters etc.   

“9 May was not chosen by Imran Khan; he cannot arrest himself. The plan was to attack Army installations across Pakistan, which is something that the Army were aware of. During a meeting, the Army was told to defend itself but was asked to refrain from attacking protestors.”  
Gul Bukhari

“What this does is allows them to document Imran Khan supporters causing widespread violence and go on to prosecute them by law. Moreover, the violence allowed such matters to move from civilian courts to Army courts since they were attacking the Army’s jurisdiction,” Bukhari told The Quint.

Bukhari spoke to The Quint and said that following the violence of 9 May, which was “allowed to happen,” high-ranking members and party workers of the Tehreek-e-Insaf began leaving the party “in a matter of days.”  

“After everyone has left the party or is afraid of what will happen to them if they mobilise on the streets. Why would anybody try to protest?”   

The Quint spoke to a 22-year-old PTI supporter based out of Karachi, who wished to be identified as Khan, and said that visuals of action against PTI workers and supporters had frightened her into remaining silent.   

“I saw what was happening on 9 May with my own eyes. I tried to gather support, and we went out and demonstrated as well. But after our families saw what happened to our party leaders, they simply refused to let me go out.”  

“We were told that our photos are with the police and that they would arrest us. I did not leave my home for two weeks and deleted all my social media. My parents thought they would pick me up and take me somewhere," he added.

An older protestor, requesting anonymity, told The Quint that after witnessing the happening of 9 May, his belief in the PTI was lifted.   

“I believe in peaceful demonstrations, and what our other supporters did was wrong. I was heartbroken to see how we destroyed symbols of Pakistan’s progress and decided to distance myself from the PTI.”   

"Imran Khan used to say, Aapne Gabhrana nahi hai (you don't have to fear),’ but now the time has come for someone to tell him, 'Aapne Gabhrana hai (you have to fear)'....Aur usse zyada, arrest hone ka shauk thodi hai (More than that, it’s not that I love being arrested,” he chuckled and told The Quint.   

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Topics:  Pakistan   Imran Khan    Pakistan 

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