Pakistan Reader# 596, 10 May 2023
Following his arrest yesterday (09 May, Tuesday), Imran Khan was brought to Islamabad Police Lines, where the National Accountability Bureau has demanded a remand for 14 days. According to Dawn, Imran Khan’s lawyer had “opposed the request and said that the case did not fall within the bureau’s ambit.” Imran was taken into custody in connection with the Al-Qadir Trust case. The allegations suggest that he and his wife received a substantial bribe from real estate magnate Malik Riaz, totaling billions of rupees and hundreds of kanals. Now that an arrest has been made, and charges are likely to follow soon, the legal case will proceed through its own due process. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will be the lead organization that would pursue the case. Considering the recent history and politicization of the NAB, it is likely that this process will raise more questions than provide answers.
The larger issues are immediate reactions and long terms fallouts. Following Imran Khan’s arrest, there was an unprecedented level of violence across Pakistan. While Pakistan is not new to violence following an arrest of a political leader, the targets and the scale of violence during the first day were new. In many places across Pakistan, military installations and houses of army leaders were targeted by PTI supporters. This is a new phenomenon. It remains to be seen whether the recent targeting of the Establishment by political activists is a one-time occurrence or the start of a new trend in Pakistani politics. Only time will tell.
What does the government want to do with the arrest? The statements from the interior minister makes it clear that the government looks at pursuing a legal case (or cases on different areas/charges) through the NAB. Imran Khan did the same against the Shariffs, when he was the Prime Minister until last year. The cases would prolong; perhaps, the government aims to keep Imran Khan in the jail, or outside politics, until the next elections are scheduled and conducted.
The spontaneous violence in the streets, following Imran’s arrest should indicate his popularity. While the government may use the official machinery, policy and para-military to control violence, how will it respond to the growing popularity of Imran Khan, after he was removed from being the Prime Minister? Now, it is more than a year, and Imran’s popularity seems to be growing. Will the arrest stem it? Less likely. Imran has succeeded in reaching the people by playing the victim card; the arrest will further expand that reach.