Imran Khan: A steep fall for a cricket superstar

By Mayank Chhaya-

Once the prime minister of the only nuclear-armed Islamic state with access to nuclear codes, not to mention a cricket superstar living in perpetual luxury, to now 9 feet by 11 feet, bug-infested prison cell, it has been a disorienting fall for Imran Khan.

Four days after he was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison by a trial court in Islamabad, the 70-year-old Khan faces the prospect of political oblivion with a five-year-long disqualification from seeking public office. Even though his attorneys have appealed the verdict in the Islamabad High Court, there is no guarantee that it would be overturned.

As of now political fortunes of both Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf party (PTI) hang in the balance following his conviction on graft charges and subsequent incarceration.

A trial court in Islamabad, which sentenced Khan to three years in prison on August 5, said in its 30-page order, “He cheated while providing information about gifts he obtained from Toshakhana which later proved to be false and inaccurate. His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt.” Toshakhana or treasure house is the custodian of all state gifts received by the country’s prime minister and others.

In an interview, Raoof Hasan, the PTI’s information secretary, cast serious doubts about the trial court’s verdict by questioning how it was that a 30-page order was drafted and pronounced in just about half an hour. There are murmurs in Pakistan that the order was already decided and drafted before the case came up for hearing.

Khan is facing over 160 legal cases across the country but the one that has done him in for now is a strange one. The charge was that he bought certain gifts from Toshkhana at a discount and then sold them for a tidy profit once out of office. Hasan ridiculed the charge saying that it was Khan as the prime minister who doubled the amount government functionaries had to pay to buy such gifts from 20 percent to 40 percent. According to him, Khan did not pocket the profit but instead used it to repair a road in his neighborhood that had been neglected for a long time. While Khan reported the profit in his tax filing, Hasan said, by an oversight missed out to mention it in his filing with the country’s election authorities. He reportedly paid tax on his profit too. It was on this technicality of the oversight that Khan has been convicted and sentenced, Hasan said.

The guilty verdict automatically triggers Khan’s disqualification from seeking public office for the next five years. If his sentence is upheld by the Islamabad High Court, the PTI plans to go to the country’s Supreme Court. Behind the scenes though, the party’s core committee is preparing for the eventuality that the former prime minister is not granted relief even by the Supreme Court and looking at life without the charismatic Khan at the helm.

In Washington, John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said “We’re obviously concerned about any actions — particularly violent actions — that can contribute to instability in Pakistan or, frankly, any other country with whom we share a set of common interests when it comes to counterterrorism.”

“So we’re watching it with concern, of course,” he told reporters.

“Pakistan is a partner, particularly when it comes to the counterterrorism threat in that part of the world. And we have every expectation that they will remain so,” Kirby said.

For most of his adult life, Khan has been a widely celebrated cricket icon not just in Pakistan but across the world and has enjoyed all the trimmings of that massive success both in terms of wealth as well as female attentions. He had for long the reputation of being a playboy helped only by his obvious rugged good looks. Even after his retirement from cricket in 1992, there has not been a moment of dimming limelight for him, having formed his party PTI soon afterwards.

Clearly a member of Pakistan’s famously wealthy elite, for Khan the incarceration ought to have been quite a shock. Khan has reportedly asked that he be taken out of the prison at the earliest since his cell is, according to his attorneys, is “tiny” and “dirty.”

Even if the Islamabad High Court or eventually the Supreme Court releases Khan, his legal troubles are so enormous because of the sheer number of cases—according to his count 160—that he will have to devote much of his time battling those cases.

The political strategy seems to be to inundate him with cases with the calculation that even if one of them sticks, he is done for the foreseeable future as a serious challenge to the current political dispensation.

Related posts