Imran Khan’s arrest may have broken compact between Pakistan’s military and people

By Mayank Chhaya-

A significant rupture between the people of Pakistan and its omnipotent armed forces is now at hand in the violent aftermath of the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan’s rough arrest by the Punjab Rangers rather than the Islamabad police from the premises of the High Court is being viewed as a payback for his relentless attacks against the country’s military establishment. It is ironic because not too long-ago Khan early on as prime minister was viewed as the military’s “stooge” and “plant.”

From that cozy relationship with the military intelligence establishment to now when he has gone to the extent of accusing a senior intelligence officer of hatching a conspiracy to assassinate it is an extraordinary turn of events in Pakistan.

The fact that supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party attacked the military headquarters, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the corps commander’s residence on Tuesday following his arrest indicates that the break with the military as an institution among sections of the Pakistani population is real.

What is ironic is that the current political dispensation in Islamabad and the omnipotent military appear to have found a common cause in decimating former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. The trend seems to be towards politically incapacitating Khan not just for the foreseeable future but effectively forever. What is being witnessed now is unprecedented in the sense that in the midst of a completely ruined economy, the government has also chosen to precipitate perhaps its gravest political crisis.

What is remarkable is that those within the current government, who once justifiably claimed to have been victims of the military’s skullduggeries, are at the very least conniving at the military’s seeming machinations since it involves their most vocal and vastly popular politician.

The 70-year-old Khan was arrested as part of a corruption scandal involving an alleged transfer of land meant for Al-Qadir university near Islamabad in exchange for money owed to the state. In addition to that Khan is facing several other cases, including the allegations that he unlawfully sold state gifts he received as prime minister, something he has strenuously denied.

Pakistan’s army appears to have been shaken up by the explosion of protests calling Tuesday’s attacks a “dark day” in the nation’s history. However, in some sense chickens have come home to roost for the military for its repeated meddling in civilian affairs for decades. There are already serious voices within Pakistan that now say that the historic compact between the military and the people of Pakistan has broken with this conflagration.

A statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) today described the attacks on military and intelligence properties as “black chapter” and insisted that the action against Khan was in line with the law as being enforced by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). However, many independent observers in Pakistan view NAB as a political tool to silence opponents by the government of the day.

It is a measure of how shaken up the military intelligence establishment is that it described the violent aftermath as something Pakistan’s enemies have not been able to do in the last 75 years.

“Any further attack on the army, including all law enforcement agencies, military and state installations and properties will be severely retaliated, the responsibility of which will be on this very group that wants to push Pakistan into a civil war and has expressed it multiple times. No one can be allowed to incite people and take the law into their hands,” according to the statement as translated from Urdu by the Dawn newspaper said.

A conviction in the corruption case is fraught for long-term or even lifetime disqualification from holding any public office for Khan. His supporters have argued that the government and the military have ganged up to ensure that Khan is not just disqualified for life but effectively removed from any public discourse.

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