Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently spoke out against Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir, accusing him of obstructing his path to regain power. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Khan expressed his lack of animosity towards the army chief but highlighted the apparent hostility directed towards him. This development comes after the civilian government announced its intention to utilize a controversial army law to prosecute supporters of Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), involved in damaging military installations. Khan, who firmly believes that General Munir was responsible for ordering his arrest, expressed concerns over the ongoing arrests of PTI members and cautioned his supporters to remain peaceful amidst a potential crackdown on opposition activists and leaders.
Arrests and Political Unrest
Khan, aged 70, voiced his grievances from his residence in Lahore, where he had been confined since his release on bail on May 13. He accused the police of apprehending approximately 7,500 protestors, allegedly affiliated with his party. Khan urged his supporters to maintain non-violence in the face of potential re-arrest, asserting that the government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, would exploit instances of violence to suppress opposition activists and leaders. The former prime minister emphasized that despite the numerous cases against him, an idea whose time has come cannot be arrested.
The aftermath of Khan’s May 9 arrest witnessed widespread unrest, with a group of alleged supporters setting fire to the residence of a prominent military commander in Lahore. The country’s civilian and military leaders responded by announcing their intention to subject rioters and their backers to trial under army law, a move that has drawn criticism from human rights organizations and activists.
Human Rights Concerns
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the “arbitrary arrests” of over 4,000 individuals in the wake of the protests, emphasizing the need for the Pakistani authorities to respect due process rights. Patricia Gossman, HRW’s Associate Asia Director, called for the immediate cessation of arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters. Gossman stressed that fundamental guarantees of peaceful protest and due process should not be sacrificed in Pakistan’s political conflict. The right to a court hearing within 24 hours, as mandated by Pakistani law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must be upheld, according to HRW.
Khan’s Ouster and Allegations against the Army
Imran Khan’s removal from power in April, following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, prompted him to accuse the army of orchestrating his downfall. Despite this setback, Khan’s popularity has surged amidst the country’s severe financial crisis, marked by widespread food shortages. Organizing numerous mass rallies, Khan has drawn tens of thousands of supporters, demanding snap general elections.
Khan reiterated his belief that former Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa attempted to oust him and acknowledged that, as prime minister, he possessed the power to remove Bajwa from his position. However, he opted not to interfere with the army, respecting it as an institution beyond political intervention.
Government’s Accusations and PTI’s Future
The government has accused Imran Khan’s supporters of damaging military assets and criticized him for failing to condemn the violent protests that ensued after his arrest. Khan defended himself, claiming ignorance of the violent incidents during his detainment and accused the police of killing 25 unarmed supporters.
Cognizant of the narrative propagated by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of 12 political parties that spearheaded the no-confidence vote, Khan emphasized his aversion to violence. He expressed his belief that the government and establishment aimed to crush the PTI, citing numerous criminal cases filed against him and the arrest of his party’s top leadership as efforts to prevent his participation in the upcoming general election. Despite these challenges, Khan remains optimistic, with surveys indicating the potential for a resounding victory for the PTI with a two-thirds majority.
Conclusion: Imran Khan’s accusations against Army Chief General Asim Munir, the ongoing arrests of PTI members, and the government’s use of army law to prosecute supporters have intensified political tensions in Pakistan. Concerns over human rights violations and due process have been raised by HRW, urging the authorities to respect detainees’ rights and abide by legal protocols. Khan, despite facing numerous obstacles, maintains his commitment to peaceful means and expresses confidence in his party’s prospects for electoral success. The political landscape in Pakistan remains charged as key players navigate a path towards stability and democracy.