On May 9th Pakistan Army launched its latest “coup,” to arrest an increasingly belligerent political “opponent,” Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
It is not surprising that Khan and the Army fell out so precipitously.
Background to the Plot
Imran Khan was Pakistan army's preferred choice for the Prime Minister in 2018. The wheel appears to have come full circle as Mr. Khan exploited populism amongst the masses and the ineffectiveness of traditional political parties in the country to advantage to gain the support of the mases across several provinces.
Importantly Khan has become the dominant political force on the support base that he has created after he was ousted out of power in April last year.
What is the result of the arrest of Mr Imran Khan by the Rangers who come under the Ministry of Interior Affairs but are officered by the Pakistan Army remains to be seen – more about that later..
For the army in Pakistan to take over the reins in the country in a very subtle manner is not new. Imran Khans predecessor politically speaking Mr Nawaz Sharif was not only ousted of the chair of the Prime Minister but also from his party and declared as not being “Sadiq and Ameen,” (honest and righteous) by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which he is contesting from London in exile.
Shareef political predecessor and key opponent Mrs Benazir Bhutto was unfortunately assassinated the causes of which and the perpetrators behind the same remain unidentified.
There were others before Sharif and Bhutto but that was a period when the Army was even more dominant whereas the leaders contemporary spectrum had attempted to challenge the army but could not succeed.
Imran Khan appears in the same category of challengers to the Pakistan Army which ironically had been backing him for almost three years and when he was the Prime Minister of the country despite his many gaffes and poor administrative ability.
Mid Course Correction by Army
It was only when Mr Khan’s popularity appeared to be rising and he questioned the Army’s appointments and removal of the ISI Chief - Lt Gen Faiz Hameed that the Army was seriously concerned and it decided to crackdown managing a no confidence motion in the parliament which brought in the Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance which is presently in government led by the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz in this month last year.
[There is also a sub plot related to the current Army Chief General Asim Munir who as the ISI Chief then highlighted the corruption allegations of then Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife – Bushra Bibi].
The PDM was ill prepared to take on the many challenges which had been left behind by the mismanagement of Mr. Khan and his government from dissonance in relations with The United States to an ill timed visit by Mr. Khan to Moscow on the day the Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the so called “special military operation” or the war in Ukraine.
Mr. Khan had warned the army as well as well present ruling alliance that he would be far more dangerous when out of office then in.
Imran Strikes Back
This he proved by some resilient gerrymandering of the vote in the largest assembly in the country in Punjab that's deposing the PMLN chief minister Hamza Shahbaz, son of the prime minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Mr. Khan and his party were in majority in Khyber Pakhtoonwa a critical province in Pakistan with Pashtun majority at a time when the Afghan Taliban assumed power in Kabul in August 2021.
Using the majority Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonwa Mr Imran Khan dissolves the assembly setting into motion the process for holding elections which were required to be carried out within 90 days.
The PDM ill prepared for the polls particularly when it was facing flak for high inflation, low growth and people virtually on the streets even during the holy month of Ramzan looking for flour for bread or roti
Obviously, the PDM and possibly the Pakistan Armty were not keen to hold elections even as the PTI Chair Mr Imran Khan lost a strong campaign.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan led by the Chief Justice Mr Atta Bandial supported Mr. Khan or so it seems from the moves that were made to insist that the poles be held within 90 days and setting dates such as May the 14th.
In the interim they were multiple cases piled up against Mr Imran Khan for corruption.
Finally the couckoo came to roost as on May 9th on the orders of the National Accountability Bureau the Rangers of the Pakistan went into arrest Mr. Khan on the premises of the Islamabad High Court. Khan was arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case after he had reached the IHC for two hearings.
The case involved he and his wife obtaining billions of rupees from a real estate firm for legalising a laundered amount of Rs50 billion that was identified and returned to the country by the UK during the previous PTI government.
Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared the move legal which was confirmed by Imran’s lawyer Faisal Fareed Chaudhry to Al Jazeera. “The court declared the arrest legal. We are consulting with party leaders to decide the future course of action,” he said.
Imran’s arrest warrant, a copy of was quoted by the Dawn.com, was dated May 1 and signed by NAB Chairman Lt-Gen Nazir Ahmed and said that Imran was accused of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
The development comes on the heels of the military’s rejection of accusations Imran made against DG-C Maj Gen Faisal Naseer. Imran had accused the officer of involvement in the assassination attempt against him in Wazirabad.
Imran continued with the allegations in a video message prior to moving to the Islamabad High Court.
The former premier’s detention also follows several unsuccessful attempts, including a police raid at his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park, to arrest him which he had managed to evade.
While there are grounds to believe that some of these cases may be politically motivated and thus the Supreme Court (SC) on May 11 termed PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest in the Al-Qadir Trust case “unlawful” and directed should be “immediately released”.
“The government would have to guarantee Imran’s security,” Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial directed. Clearly the role of the Supreme Court will come under further scrutiny
The end game may be many conspiracy theories away and thus more about that later
So what's new?
The arrest of Mr Imran Khan, his release, declaration that his arrest is illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan yet holding him into custody, unrest across the country by PTI supporters after his arrest and moving towards the end state when he may not be released from arrest by the Islamabad High Court or all are pieces in the same chain of events in a politically turbulent Pakistan
What happens next remains to be seen but what's new this time for the Pakistan army needs some consideration?
The Pakistan Army has always contended that it is faced with a challenge of 5th generation warfare as it called from across the borders referring to India.
The army conveniently ignored the challenge posed by its own bete noir Mr Imran Khan whose powerful presence on the social media to galvanise his supporters, use of videos even as he was going for appearance before the Islamabad High Court, Pre-dumping by claiming that he would be arrested or killed was enough to galvanise the volatile supporters.
Here Social Media has played an important role apart from the deft management of the same by the media managers of the PTI.
Imran Khan personally has a very large following on social media platforms such as Twitter where he has 19.1 million followers. His Party the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf has 8.7 million followers on just one platform Twitter. The reach of his message is far greater then that of other political party social media channels or even the Pakistan army's famed DG ISPR the famed media arm of the Army. The DGISPR has, 6.2M Followers, the PML N 2.4M Followers and the PPP 1M Followers on Twitter.
While the message which Mr. Khan has been sending to his people may or may not be the whole truth the ability to mobilise the masses has been the strength which could not be counted by his opponents as well as the Pakistan army.
So that’s what is new? While it is nobody’s case that Social media followers will dictate the course of Pakistan but it certainly has pitched him above the rest for the moment and flummoxed the Pakistan Army for now. More later……….