Confused? Don’t be, this is the status of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan who was arrested on 5 August and has since been in jail custody on the orders of a district and sessions court in Islamabad, the federal capital. The court sentenced Khan to three years in prison and fined Rs 100,000 after finding him guilty of corrupt practices related to the state gift repository.
This sentence barred the former PM from contesting elections. Khan was earlier arrested on 9 May 2023, and was kept in prison for only two days.
The Rise & Appeal of Imran Khan
This is also mirrored in the real world – several times in and outside Pakistan. The recent case is that of Humayun Dilawar – a district and sessions court judge who had convicted cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case.
The Judge had been invited by the University of Hull, UK to join a judicial training where he was harassed by the supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
This was not surprising for those who have been following Imran Khan’s political career, especially when he came into the limelight in 2014.
Generally, there is never a dull moment in Pakistani politics, but things just got more interesting when Imran Khan splashed onto the political scene as he began rallying against Nawaz Sharif’s government. His party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) was predominately youth-based and they used social media to build momentum for PTI and it was successful.
There is no doubt that Imran Khan is one of the most popular political figures in Pakistan at the moment with a passionate following. This passion was translated into violence following his arrest, as hundreds of people swarmed areas in different cities putting things on fire.
Mostly young people were arrested, many of whom still linger in jail, and ready to sacrifice their future for the love of their leader.
A Prisoner Who Happened To Be a ‘Political Messiah’
Khan organised a record-breaking 126-day dharna (sit-in protests) smack in the middle of Islamabad – the capital city. Many flocked around him believing him to be the refreshing break from the political status quo. Khan mesmerised them and they believed he would deliver them from the clutches of political dynasties that had ruled the country for decades.
The main point that Khan used to fuel his political agenda was the corruption of the existing political dynasties, emphasising that the only way out for them was his political PTI.
He not only used his charm and skills to attract people but also reminded them that he was the cricket captain who had won the World Cup for them. His followers believed he was indeed, the political messiah they needed.
His charisma surprised even Khan’s critics and reminded them of the hold that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (PPP) and Altaf Hussain (MQM) had on their followers in the past. Four years after the protests, Imran Khan was elected prime minister in 2018.
His predecessor, three-time prime minister – Nawaz Sharif was removed on corruption charges, sentenced to seven years in prison, and fined USD 25 million. Confident, he would be able to bring the necessary changes in the country, Khan kept on speaking but there was little to no action and mostly empty promises.
He literally needed to put his money where his mouth was. A small portion of his followers began feeling uneasy as they realised that Khan was not doing anything substantially and feared they might have been duped by his charisma and brilliance.
Unfortunately, Khan was confident he was doing a good job and was going to continue to rule at least to complete his term and be re-elected.
Has Imran Khan’s Spell of Charm Ceased To Create Impact?
Some say he was looking for a lifelong reign and was comfortable enough to actually slowly challenge the opposition to bring a no-confidence vote in the parliament. He felt secure in his position and was not scared of a cobbled and mostly weak – until the no-confidence vote – opposition.
Khan didn’t seem to be aware of the strength of the parliament and the democratic system, he was painfully absent from the National Assembly (lower house) during his term. Reportedly, he was sure till the last that he was going to continue as prime minister when the vote of no-confidence failed. But this did not happen, and he was ousted from office in April 2022.
Fast forward, Imran Khan was arrested on 9 May and then on 5 August, 2023. He was released two days after the first arrest, but the second time wasn’t a charm.
Till date, he has spent twenty-five agonising days in jail custody although there was a sliver of hope when on 29 August, when news came that the Islamabad High Court had suspended Khan’s sentence for illegally selling state gifts, famously known as the 'Toshakhana case'.
Unfortunately, for Khan and his supporters, the jubilation was short-lived when their leader did not walk out a free man. He was not released as they had expected. They probably thought Khan had been given a clean chit for about the 150 cases that had been registered against him.
For now, Imran Khan is to stay in jail custody at least for another 14 days as investigations continue for other cases including the US cypher case and on charges of leaking state secrets.
Imran’s legal team believes he is being held wrongly and continue to maintain that the registration of a case under the Official Secrets Act was illegal and politically motivated.
For now, Pakistani politics on simmer as PTI’s charismatic leader will go back to his cell and have no contact with his followers, but this does not mean things will die down. Imran is Pakistan’s political Colossus who doth bestride the narrow world constantly making news in one way or another.
(Lubna Jerar Naqvi is a senior journalist in Pakistan. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)