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Imran Khan’s political games leave him isolated as Pakistan army destroys party

Kingdom come

Jun 15, 2021
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In recent days, Imran Khan has cut an increasingly isolated figure. Since Pakistan’s former prime minister was released from jail, after a brief but explosive attempt to arrest him last month, his return has been marked by a mass exodus of the top leadership of his party, on a scale that has surprised even his critics.

Late on Thursday night, Pervez Khattak, the former chief minister and defence minister, became the latest high-profile resignation from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. He followed in the path of Khan’s former finance minister, his former human rights minister, his former information minister and his former shipping minister, who all stepped down from senior posts or left PTI altogether in recent weeks. Dozens of other federal and state ministers have followed suit.

Most of those who have not defected are now behind bars. On Thursday night, the president of PTI, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi – who recently said he would stand behind Khan during these “difficult times” – was arrested by anti-terrorism police at his home in Lahore. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan’s former foreign minister, still remains in prison after his arrest in May, along with several other key ministers and thousands of rank and file PTI members.

There is little question among analysts who is orchestrating the arrests and resignations. Since Khan’s relationship with the all-powerful military establishment fell apart and led to his fall from power, he has been on a crusade against the army leadership. He has accused them of attempting to assassinate him and of being behind his arrest in May, before he was released when the courts declared his detention illegal.

In response, say analysts and PTI members, the army chief is now trying to systematically break up Khan’s party, before arresting him and putting him on trial in a military court. The likelihood of Khan being allowed to contest Pakistan’s next election, due by October, is considered by most to be very slim.

“For me they used multiple methods to pressure me to leave the party, but one of the worst was torture,” he said, requesting anonymity over fear of the military. “They tied my feet and hung me upside down and I was like a punching bag for them. They were beating with sticks and punches and kicking me.

“They called my family and threatened them and told me that they would pick up my children and entire family if I don’t leave the party. The offer I was given was that if I left PTI, I would get relief. I knew there was no other way.”

Even those lower down in the party described the pressure they were receiving from the military, with many accused of taking part in violent riots and protests that erupted on 9 May after Khan’s arrest. Homes and headquarters of the military were among the buildings attacked in the violence.

Since then, the military and government have described it as a “black day” for Pakistan and vowed to bring the full force of the state down on those who took part, while accusing Khan of being the mastermind. Those who participated, and even those who were just affiliated with the party, have been rounded up in their thousands and charged with terrorism offences, with some due to face trial in military courts

Imran Khan: who is the man dividing Pakistan? – video explainer
The first offer came in May last year and the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, had even written his resignation speech, but after the government approached Khan with the election proposal, he announced his “long march” protest. Not wanting to look like they were bowing to pressure, the government called off the plan.

Then, during supreme court-mandated negotiations between PTI and the government in early May, the government proposed dissolving the parliament by July and holding elections at the end of September. PTI senior leaders in the meeting were enthusiastic, but after a phone-call with Khan, were told to reject the plan and looked visibly dejected according to those in the negotiations.

As trust in Khan’s loyalty to his party members has diminished, few at the upper levels of PTI have proved willing to stand up to the military and face the likely draconian consequences, instead choosing to leave him. A former senior party leader confirmed that several of those who resigned were now in discussion for a plan to rebuild PTI “minus Khan” as a way to “save the party”.

“It is the bitter truth [that] Khan does not care about his workers and close aides and what they go through or face,” he said. “Anyone who has known him closely, knows he just thinks about himself. Khan is a big narcissist


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