Imran Khan Arrest: Dawn Of The End Game
On May 9, 2023, Imran Khan’s year-long theatrics came to an abrupt halt with his arrest. Imran’s arrest was long overdue, given his anti-establishment blitz. His arrest came a day after he accused serving ISI officer DG (C) Faisal Naseer of being responsible for the assassination attempt against him in Wazirabad. Imran was arrested at the Islamabad High Court while he was waiting for his biometrics. Given Pakistan’s politics, the relationship between political parties and the establishment has been that of master and servant. Keeping that in mind, Imran has been dealt a soft hand so far since he went on a rampage after losing his confidence vote. But what made the establishment (Army and ISI) show such restraint, what propelled them to act now, and most pertinent of all, what’s next? Is it going to be Imran’s political renaissance or the end game? Let’s sink into these burning issues.
IMRAN KHAN ARRESTED OR ABDUCTED?
Since the day of Imran’s arrest, there has been a conflict of opinion between the pro-Imran and anti-Imran factions. Pro-Imran’s faction claims his arrest was an abduction by a state agency on the order of Gen. Asif Munir. On the other hand, the anti-Imran faction claims it to be a lawful arrest as per due process of law. Let’s dig into both of these contentions.
PRO IMRAN FACTION
For the pro-Imran cult, he is the last man standing—a messiah who would bring “Haqeeqi Azadi” to Pakistan. This haqeeqi azadi boils down to freedom from the evil clutches of the establishment, the chiseller behind every malfeasance. This faction vehemently claims that Imran Khan has been abducted by the agency due to his stance on democratic values. What prompted them was the sheer brazenness of the arrest. Imran was arrested by the rangers instead of the police, and that too from inside the Islamabad high court. Till now, Imran has been charged with more than 100 corruption cases, which his loyalists claim to be phoney. They claim that Imran was picked up despite securing bail in all his cases. Armed rangers attacked the court compound and thrashed Imran, his lawyer, and his supporters. Later, several clips surfaced that validated claims of aggression by the rangers.
In this entire arrest fiasco, the elephant in the room is “Dirty Harry,” aka DG (C) Faisal Naseer. Dirty Harry is the acronym given by Imran to Faisal Naseer. Faisal Naseer is number two in the ISI and responsible for political engineering in Pakistan. He is infamous for his brutality and below-the-belt tactics against politicians who show defiance towards the establishment. Imran Khan accused him of carrying out an assassination attempt on Imran twice. He also accused Faisal Naseer of the assassination of Arshad Shariff in Kenya. These allegations drew a stark warning from the ISPR for Imran to not cross the red line. This was the first official warning to Imran, but in vain, as Imran doubled down on his allegations. It was the first instance when a sitting ISI officer was disgraced in public. This became the straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in Imran’s arrest.
ANTI IMRAN FACTION
This faction includes the army, ISI, and the current ruling coalition led by PM Shehbaz Sharif. This faction claims that Imran’s loyalists’ crying foul over his arrest is just an excuse to camouflage his corruption scandal. Furthermore, the arrest on May 9, 2023, was legit and in accordance with due process of law. Armed rangers were called in to make the arrest because Imran’s supporters were suspected of retaliating violently, as was previously witnessed at his Zaman Park residence, where they violently fought his arrest. The arrest was made by the anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), for Imran’s involvement in the Al-Qadir trust fund scam. According to them, Imran Khan has crossed the red line by defiling the sanctity of the army as an institution. They claim that Imran’s allegations against DG (C) Faisal are hollow assertions and hold no water.
Despite being demanded by the ISPR, Imran has yet to show any evidence to support his allegations. Many believe it’s just a smokescreen to conceal Imran’s wrongdoings in the Al-Qadir trust scam. The case involves the formation of the Al-Qadir Trust, which aimed to set up the Al-Qadir University. This trust is headed by Imran Khan and his wife. In 2019, the UK’s National Crime Agency gave £190 million to Pakistan’s Imran government in a settlement with Malik Riaz. Malik Riaz is a real estate tycoon and owner of the Bahria Town Housing Group. Imran, instead of depositing £190 million in the government treasury, transferred it back to Malik Riaz’s Bahria town. In return, Malik Riaz donated 458 kanals of land to the Al-Qadir Trust for a university that had only 37 students. This case has enough merit to disqualify Imran from electoral politics, as intended by this faction.
AFTERMATH: THE NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES
In Pakistan, word of Imran Khan’s arrest spread like wildfire. Videos of Imran being hauled away by rangers trended on social media shortly after he was arrested. A pre-recorded video of Imran urging people to hit the streets went viral before the authorities could act further. Soon, protestors gathered on the streets in Punjab, KPK, and Peshawar. Imran seemed to have foreseen his arrest and had been prepared for this day for some time. At a moment’s notice, the crowds gathered at important locations. PTI supporters gathered in well-organised mobs. It gave the impression that they had already drilled out their emergency plan in case Imran was arrested. Every aspect of the protest appeared to be well coordinated, with all the elements working in tandem with one another. Though the anti-Imran faction led by the establishment had anticipated some blowback, the sheer magnitude exceeded their expectations.
VIOLENT PROTEST THROUGHOUT PAKISTAN
The establishment took all the necessary measures to evade any accountability for what they assumed would have happened after the arrest. The army chief, Gen. Asif Munir, went to Oman, and PM Shehbaz extended his stay in London as their alibi while Imran was arrested. On the other hand, interior minister Rana Sannaulah took the entire responsibility for nabbing Imran Khan in the corruption scandal. But things didn’t go as planned. Soon, swells of agitators stroamed critical civil and defence infrastructure. The agitators burned the Radio Pakistan building to restrain the army from carrying out martial law. They also burned down the residence of DG (C) Faisal Nasser, the main culprit. Similar scenes came from other parts of the country. Protestors strode the army’s Bannu cantt in KPK, along with the KPK provincial assembly. Famous Swat motorway tunnel arsoned.
Stone-pelting by police and rangers was a common scene throughout the country. Even armed facilities were not spared. Violent protests strode into GHQ Rawalpindi (Army headquarters) along with the ISI office in Faisalabad. Lahore Corp Commander’s house was vandalised and set on fire, for which he was later sacked by the army as punishment. An air force base in Mianwali was also razed down, and a dummy aircraft was set on fire. There are two views on this mayhem: 1) Some believe that the situation got out of hand because the establishment wasn’t expecting public outrage of such magnitude. 2) Some believe that the establishment deliberately let protestors run amok in the country. The rationale behind this is that the establishment could use this chaos to portray PTI as the enemy of the state. Furthermore, the establishment could legitimise its brutal crackdown on PTI once and for all.
IMRAN KHAN: DIVIDER-IN-CHIEF
After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, if there is any politician who has divided Pakistan like no other, that would be Imran Khan. The former divided Pakistan into two parts in 1971, while the latter divided the current Pakistan from within. Today, Imran has become the biggest dividing force within and between different institutions. Pakistan’s army was never so divided as it is today. Imran has penetrated the army institution by forming a clique of favourable officers who provide assistance clandestinely, defying the institutional command. This clique includes both serving and veteran officers. Retired Lt. Gen. and former ISI Chief Faiz Hamid is said to be leading this clique. To prevent this fragmentation within, the army cracked the whip on its officers (serving and veterans) supporting Imran. For example, the arrest of retired Lt. Gen. Amjad Shoaib sent a message to all that they weren’t untouchables and had to fall in line.
Lt. Gen. Amjad Shoaib was arrested as a warning to all the officers from the establishment.
Another institution penetrated by Imran is the judiciary. The judiciary is also divided into pro-Imran and anti-Imran factions. The pro-Imran faction is led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial along with two other judges. Justice Bandial, along with Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, declared the postponement of elections unconstitutional. This came as a major jolt to the establishment, which decided to postpone the election. This was seen as an open declaration of revolt between the judiciary and the establishment. Even post-arrest, CJ Bandial overruled the Islamabad High Court and declared Imran’s arrest illegal and ordered NAB to release him. This was the first time the judiciary stood against the establishment for a political leader. Not to mention, in the past, the establishment took the judiciary’s help to assassinate Bhutto. Today, Imran has divided every institution and exploited every faultline within Pakistan for his political ambitions.
INDIAN ARMY VS. PAKISTAN ARMY
This entire episode elucidated the stark distinction between a professional and a political army. As Indians, we should be grateful that we have a professional army, unlike Pakistan’s political army. Here are a few points that highlight the difference between a professional Indian army and a political Pakistani army:
PAKISTAN ARMY OPEN FIRED ON UNARMED PROTESTORS
- The fundamental distinction is the priority of the two armed forces. The Indian Army’s only priority is to safeguard the country’s borders and its people. The Indian Army is purely an apolitical force in spirit and substance. In fact, Rule 21 of the Army Act, 1950, clearly states that no officer shall be involved in any political discourse in any manner. The Pakistani army, on the other hand, is purely a political force. Unlike the Indian army, which gains legitimacy from the love and respect of its people, the Pakistani army gains legitimacy through political control. The primary objective of the Pakistan Army is political engineering within the country, and that’s been consistent since its inception. This is reflected by the fact that Pakistan has been under direct martial law for 33 years and indirect rule for the rest.
INDIAN ARMY OFFICER PROTECTING CIVILIANS DURING TENSIONS IN MANIPUR.
- Another aspect that sets apart the Indian Army from its Pakistani counterpart is its institutional integrity. The Indian Army, as an institution, carries itself as a force of benevolence for its people. It doesn’t treat its people as mere subjects to command. This aspect of the Indian Army is reflected in its operations. Recently, during tensions in Manipur, the Indian Army acted as an interlocutor and guardian to ease the situation. Instead of dealing with people with an iron fist, the army adopted a people-to-people approach to rebuild trust among the people. On the other hand, the Pakistani army quelled its own people with brute force time and again. Pakistan’s army is infamous for fighting wars against its own people, be it in KPK or Balochistan. Even in Punjab and Sindh, the Pakistan Army has started crushing its own people during recent protests.
Also Read, India Vs Pakistan: Nuclear Warfare Capabilities
IMPLICATIONS: SHOULD INDIA USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO RECLAIM POK?
Nepoleon wisely said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Pakistan is currently amidst a perfect storm. It’s facing its worst economic crisis. The forex reserves sank to an all-time low of just US$4 billion. The inflation rate hit a record level of 36.5%, higher than Sri Lanka. The catastrophic floods of 2022 added to its woes, resulting in US$30 billion worth of losses to an already cash-strapped economy. On top of that came the revival of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), expanding its arc of terror within the nation. Just to make things worse, Imran Khan happened to Pakistan, bringing the nation on the verge of an imminent civil war. Given the mess Pakistan finds itself in, anyone would be tempted to suggest an operation to reclaim POK. But here is the catch: Why disturb your enemy, who’s on a suicide mission?
Launching an offensive in POK or elsewhere would only give the Pakistan Army a breather to divert public resentment and regain its lost ground. It would only make India play into the hands of Pakistan’s establishment. Instead, India should bide its time and focus on capacity-building. Imran Khan came as a blessing to India, and it would be a cardinal sin to miss this opportunity. What we need is to use this window of about 5–10 years to bolster our own comprehensive national strength. India is currently on its way to becoming a major economic world power. India should focus on the long game instead of indulging in Pakistan, a failed state. Things will fall into place once we’re ready for them. We have China in the north wanting us to make mistakes and give it a free run. It’s time to opt for strategic patience over tactical blunders.