Imran Khan has started a dangerous effort to mobilise the public’s support against renowned generals who are in charge of Pakistan’s most influential institution ever since he was forced out as prime minister in April. The stakes for both parties have been dramatically raised by a plot to assassinate him on Thursday.
After being wounded in the leg while leading a march toward the capital Islamabad to seek an early national election—which isn’t scheduled to take place until later next year—Khan, 70, was in stable condition. His party promptly placed the blame on both Shehbaz Sharif, his successor as prime minister, and a member of the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which is in charge of Pakistan’s internal security.
Harif swiftly denounced the incident, which left one person dead, and seven others injured, and pledged support to the investigating local authorities.
Anit Mukherjee, an associate professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who studies civil-military ties in South Asia, warned that things may get pretty ugly. “Imran Khan’s supporters are angry, and they want to vent their resentment on the establishment.
Khan has shown no signs of giving up as he seeks to retake control of the country with the fifth-highest population in the world, and the shooting is only likely to hone his attacks on the top generals he holds responsible for his overthrow. The former cricket star has had success mobilising the populace to his cause, winning significant by-elections last month despite contending with a number of legal matters that might disqualify him from running in the upcoming national election and possibly land him in jail.
According to historical precedent
According to historical precedent, Khan has little chance of winning re-election in Pakistan, where no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
The shooting also makes it more difficult for the military establishment to make decisions, as it supported Khan’s ascension to power in 2018 until parting ways with him last year. Any further assaults on Khan or attempts to prevent him from voting in the upcoming election will draw attention to generals who would rather remain unnoticed despite exercising enormous influence over both internal and foreign policy.
TCA Raghavan, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, stated that “the Pakistan military won’t want a situation where it has to deal with a huge number of people with force.” Therefore, the army might advise the government to seek a negotiated settlement with Imran Khan if the protest grows.Khan had previously advocated delaying the changeover until after the next election, giving him a chance to name Sharif’s replacement as army chief.
Recent political tensions in Pakistan are a result of Khan’s attempts to regulate military promotions. Khan openly criticised Bajwa’s selection to head the country’s spy agency late last year and advocated for one of his own supporters to continue in the position.
Even though the army chief ultimately got his way, the incident laid the groundwork for Khan’s departure from office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence around six months later.
Military officials criticised Khan at a press conference last week for calling top generals “animals” and “traitors” while secretly enlisting Bajwa’s assistance in his bid to take over as prime minister.
Lt. General Nadeem Ahmad Anjum, the head of the ISI who Khan had opposed last year, said in rare public remarks, “We informed him that the army will not play an unconstitutional role since it has resolved to stay apolitical. If you wish to regain power, “we told you make your own political manoeuvres. While the alleged gunman has claimed that he acted alone in trying to assassinate Khan, Pakistan’s media regulator has urged television outlets not to broadcast the accusations.
Pakistan’s economy, which is already suffering from the worst floods in its history and is looking for additional funding from multilateral lenders and donor nations to shore up its faltering finances, is in danger of suffering further due to the possibility of political unrest and additional bloodshed.
After Khan pushed the country more toward Beijing and Moscow, Sharif, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this week, has worked to strengthen ties with all major powers, including the US.
Imran Khan has continued to garner support by constantly accusing the US of interfering in his removal, a charge that the Biden administration has refuted. The government and military of Pakistan have unsuccessfully denied the accusation.
A political and military analyst claimed
Imran Khan might try to nominate a new military commander if he regains power, although doing so would be perilous.
Whether Khan and his PTI followers can mobilise enough public support to compel Sharif and the military to comply with their demands will depend on what happens over the next several days. According to Elizabeth Threlkeld, senior fellow and head of South Asia at the Washington-based Stimson Center, Khan will “definitely receive a boost out of this,” but it’s uncertain how durable that will be and whether the situation will develop more violent.
Numerous PTI supporters described this as a line that the government had crossed, she claimed. “Many off ramps are hard to see.”