What appeared as a step forward for the former premier’s politics, triggered a massive crackdown on the PTI. Scores of his close aides, frontline party members and lawmakers announced to quit the party, and some even politics while expressing regret over the May 9th attacks on the army installations
In the second week of May, Imran Khan, the former premier, experienced a fleeting moment of influence and power that in its final analysis proved to be his apparent undoing – at least in the near- to mid-term. His arrest on corruption charges led to the unprecedented violent mob attacks on Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) and several other military installations and landmarks. These protests ended only after the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled Khan’s arrest ‘illegal’ and ordered his release. His ardent supporters hailed this as a victory, but what appeared as a step forward for the former premier’s politics, triggered a massive crackdown on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Scores of his close aides, frontline party members and lawmakers announced to quit the party, and some even politics while expressing regret over the May 9th attacks on the army installations. Since then, Imran Khan is seen getting more and more isolated and cornered as various arms of the state machinery appear to be moving in tandem to squeeze political space for him.
In a YouTube livestream following his release from prison, Khan, who is the chairman of the PTI, accused Pakistan Army’s top command of orchestrating his arrest and removal from office in April 2022. This statement further upped the ante of confrontation between the PTI and the country’s powerful state institutions against the backdrop of violent events of May 9th. These events shocked not just the Pakistan Armed Forces, but the people in general. A possible major bloodshed was averted as the Pakistan Army showed restraint and refrained from firing at the crowd, including in Lahore, where the high-security Corps Commander House was looted and burned by the protesters.
May 9th’s violent events served as a wakeup call to the state institutions, which launched a crackdown, arresting thousands of PTI workers, including scores of lawmakers and senior leaders.
On June 7, the Pakistan Army’s top command issued a stern warning to all those, who planned and executed the May 9th violent attacks on various military installations, including the Jinnah House, and desecrated the monuments of the martyrs. This warning came at the 81st Formation Commanders Conference at the GHQ, which was presided over by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir. All the Corps Commanders, Principal Staff Officers and Formation Commanders of the Pakistan Army attended the conference.
The forum condemned the May 9 ‘Black Day incidents in the strictest sense’ and reiterated that all those involved in the event would be tried under the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secret Act as per Constitution.
Analysts say that after the May 9 events business as usual was not possible and the military leadership was left with no choice other than to assert itself in the larger national interest or quit.
Once the state institutions, backed by the Shehbaz Sharif-led government, swung into action, many prominent PTI leaders and lawmakers publicly denounced the May 9 violence and resigned from their party, and some even announced to quit politics altogether.
While the PTI dissidents say that they were answering to their conscience, their party leadership accused the authorities of resorting to unprecedented pressure tactics forcing its office-bearers and lawmakers to quit its ranks.
Last month, a beleaguered Khan vacillated between defiance and surrender during another live stream from his home. Hindered by intermittent internet connection, Khan offered to step down from his party’s leadership to defuse the political crisis, subject to the decision of senior PTI members.
Khan’s complicated relationship with the army dates back to his rise to power in 2018, aided by the military’s perception of him as an honest alternative to the long-standing family-controlled parties in Pakistani politics. However, his subsequent clashes with the army resulted in his dismissal last year through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.
While officially attributed to his governance and coalition management failures, Khan contends that the army chief orchestrated his removal.
However, despite the tiff with the mighty establishment, the PTI remained intact all through the first 13 months following Imran Khan’s ouster from power. Analysts believed that the PTI was on its road to victory in the next elections, but then the May 9th happened, which wrecked its chances of returning to power anytime soon.
Although Imran Khan still enjoys huge popularity, the parting of ways by the influential constituency politicians came as a massive blow. Yet, Khan’s narrative resonates with the masses and the Shehbaz Sharif government finds it difficult to counter it. The poor performance of the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government also remains the reason for Imran Khan’s popularity. Under the Shehbaz Sharif government inflation has surged to an all-time high of 38 per cent last month, while food inflation is hovering at around 50 per cent. Critics argue that Khan has benefited from protection in the courts.
However, Khan and the PTI now face the full force of the Pakistani state and there are speculations whether the former premier will be allowed to run in the elections – whenever they are held later this year.
As the country is being run by a hugely unpopular federal government, two of the major provinces – Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – are governed by caretaker setups, which are holding on to power beyond their constitutional tenure of three months.
The Sharif family’s focus on using force to crush the PTI is likely to have many unintended consequences and is all set to further polarize Pakistani politics. Yes, for now, the gloves are off as the government and the security establishment are bent upon punishing Imran Khan and his followers for the May 9th events, which means that Pakistan will continue to remain in the grip of political uncertainty against the backdrop of a teetering economy.