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What next in Pakistan?

Pakistan's Supreme Court has intervened against the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Imran, who had been seriously injured in an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last November and came to court in a wheelchair to provide his biometric data in connection with a corruption case, was arrested last Tuesday by the Federal Security Forces (Rangers) However, a bench, comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said on Thursday that the arrest was illegal and the action taken without permission on the court premises was contempt of court.

The arrest of Imran, arguably the most popular leader in current Pakistan politics, has paved the way for another upheaval in the country's politics. The Shehbaz Sharif administration has been trying its best to trap Imran ever since he left office in April 2022 after failing to win a vote of confidence. Following his arrest on Tuesday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists took to the streets in protests across the country and at least eight people were killed in the ensuing clashes. About a thousand people were arrested in the Punjab province alone. Leaders including former foreign minister and Imran Khan's close associate Shah Mahmood Qureshi have also been arrested. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the army had to be deployed to deal with the agitators. A curfew has been issued in many parts and internet connectivity has been partially or completely cut off. Following the Supreme Court verdict declaring the arrest illegal, Imran Khan has appealed to his people to remain calm.

In the August 2018 elections, PTI though the largest single party did not have a majority by itself, but most of the parties supported Imran for the post of Prime Minister. Later, as many legislators including even PTI members joined the protests organized by the opposition parties highlighting the failure of the government and the ongoing economic crisis, Imran had to step down after losing his majority in the National Assembly. Then the administration led by Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was seen moving with severe retaliatory measures. Although Imran came to power by speaking out against corruption and mobilizing the people for it, his administration was not free from allegations. Financial allegations related to one of them, Al Qadir University Trust, led to his current arrest. Imran and his wife Bushra Bibi, trustees of the Al-Qadir Trust, became the accused in financial misappropriation last year. A business tycoon named Malik Riaz had made substantial donations to the trust's educational institution. Malik Riaz's assets including land and bank accounts in London were frozen by the UK's National Crime Agency for various reasons. The allegation is that after the matter was settled at the government level, Imran diverted the amount transferred through the trust and took a huge consideration in return. The government machinery , well entitled to conduct an investigation to bring out the truth into an act of torture, however used it for political vendetta. Technically, Imran's arrest was ordered by the anti-corruption agency National Accountability Bureau (NAB) who say that the arrest was necessitated when Imran failed to respond to any of their summons. The argument that the government has no role in any of this is not easy to digest about Pakistan, where the separation among the wings of the executive, the military and the judiciary is proverbially thin.

The question now is what will happen in Pakistan politics now that the arrest has been revoked. Even today, according to opinion polls, the PTI enjoys considerable popular support. The enthusiasm of the ranks who came out on the streets against the leader's arrest is sure to intensify with the decision of the Supreme Court. Now the country will see a stronger Imran than the Imran before his arrest. His confrontation with the administration may be fueled by confidence in popular support, but peace and security in Pakistan will depend on whether the administration reacts to it democratically or with a vindictive mind. The Shehbaz government has yet to realize the truth that political parties cannot rule the country without facing elections. And if he is late to realise that, the ones to pay the price will be the people of that country.

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TAGS:PakistanptiImranKhanShehbaz SharifSuperme CourtImran Khan arrest
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