Pakistan: Imran Khan Does Not Seem to Have a Viable Path Back to Power

It is very apparent that the timing of Mr Khan's convictions is not a coincidence.

4 min read
Hindi Female

We must not fall for the erroneous comparisons being made between Imran Khan's recent convictions and Mian Nawaz Sharif's convictions of 2018 ahead of the last general election in Pakistan.

First, even the judgments against Mian Nawaz Sharif document the lack of evidence of any corruption. In comparison, Imran Khan has himself admitted to the charges against him (for example meri ghari, meri marzi in the Toshakhana case i.e., to having sold off gifts and not declaring the income from them, and in the Official Secrets Act case, having taken 'my people into confidence' with regard to the contents of a secret document [the cipher] and subsequently having kept and then lost it).

Mr Khan has been demonstrated in the Toshakhana case to have not only profited from the conflict of interest but also to have committed mis-declarations of income throughout his time in office. He breached the Official Secrets Act in full public view and disclosed the contents of a diplomatic cipher for personal political gain.

So, the first difference is between the fake and real cases against the two men. Yes, both men were knocked out of the general election because of their convictions, but that's where the similarity ends.

Imran's Ouster Followed a Constitutional Process

Second, all of Imran Khan's cases are in trial courts with due process of law and appeals available to him in the higher courts of the country. By comparison, Mian Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, without a right of appeal available to him. In his case, the Supreme Court directed the National Accountability Bureau to try him and even appointed a 'monitoring judge' from the Court to oversee the NAB trials.

This was illegal, unconstitutional, unprecedented, and unheard of. Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan of the Supreme Court directed the NAB daily. He has recently resigned from his position to avoid facing references of misconduct. Who in the position of a senior puisne judge, about to become chief justice of a country in a mere eight months, would resign from their position if they were not steeped in guilt, and fear of being caught?

Third, Imran Khan was the first ouster of a Pakistani Prime Minister that followed a constitutional process, whereas Mian Nawaz Sharif was always ousted in extra-constitutional coup d'états that often relied on framing him with false charges. There are differences galore, but anchors and analysts are drawing false parallels to be wary of.

There is a general bewilderment as to why two convictions of 10 and 14 years were returned just eight and seven days before a general election, when he was already convicted in the foreign funding (of the PTI) case and could not have contested the upcoming general election on 8 February 2024.

Yet, it is very apparent that the timing of these convictions is not a coincidence. To me, it appears to be signalling to Imran Khan's voters and his candidates for the national and provincial assemblies that he is neither coming out nor making a comeback, any time soon. The reverse is what Khan and his social media workers have been trying to convince people of so that his party and support do not scatter any further.


 Khan Does Not Seem to Have a Viable Path Back to Power

The mirage of a certain comeback that Imran Khan was building, in the belief that it would eventually lead to some sort of reality, has been struck with these convictions. The long jail sentences, and a ten-year disqualification from running for public office, have put paid to that notion.

Further, the candidates Imran Khan is fielding in the general election are largely opportunist newcomers. The original ideological members of the PTI, like Javed Hashmi, Akbar S Babar, etc., are long gone. And relatively older political cadres like Fawad Chaudhry, Murad Saeed, etc., are either in jail facing the 9 May cases or on the run. So any candidates from the newcomer opportunist pool, who happen to win their seats will likely behave exactly how these convictions are meant to make them behave: prepare to join winning parties to get a share of power.

The opportunists do not contest elections to sit in the opposition, they always fly in the direction of the wind. These convictions aimed to make that direction clear.

Moreover, Imran Khan's strategy to recruit and field only lawyers seems to have backfired spectacularly. These ticket-holding lawyers neither prepared for nor fought his cases sincerely or properly. They used every opportunity for self-publicity instead to be able to leverage Imran Khan's popularity for personal gain as ticket holders of the PTI. They knew fully well he was over, but that they could still catapult themselves on the back of his perceived persecution and victimisation. Even after the convictions, these lawyer candidates are exhorting PTI voters to come out in their droves on election day to exact revenge for Imran Khan's convictions, when they know fully well it will only benefit them and not him.

As to why Imran Khan could not strike a deal with the establishment despite continuous attempts on his part, the generals' experiences appear not to allow them to trust him again. They cannot afford more instability or another attempted rebellion within the armed forces, which he is sure to foment more effectively as a person outside of prison. As it is, his propaganda apparatus, consisting of social media tigers, works like a well-oiled machine even while he is incarcerated. They know the back-end of that machine because they constructed it, and they know how powerful it is. To let him loose on top of it would be fatal for them.

Even the option of exile for Imran Khan stands rejected for two reasons. First, because he is a blabbermouth with no statesperson-like qualities. He would spread all manner of lies and truths, especially if exiled to a jurisdiction with a tradition and legal framework that guarantees free speech. That leaves the Arab world, or the Chinese, where there seem to be no takers because he appears to have personally offended these world leaders. Mr Khan seems to have sealed his political fate with his own deeds, and does not seem to have a viable pathway back to power.

(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Imran Khan 

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