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The Gloves Are Off: The Political Showdown Between Pakistan’s Military and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Snap Shot Article

Flag of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan is still under fire from both the civilian and military leadership who seem to be working together against Khan and his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The recent allegations and confrontation leveled from both sides suggests that the political crisis is still far from being solved.


Following Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9th this year, the country erupted into violent protests. PTI’s zealous supports took to the streets and marched to the Corps Commander house in Lahore, something that was considered unthinkable before. Protestor burned the house and chanted anti-army slogans. Supporters of Khan targeted military installations in order to convey their sentiments against the arrest of their leader. However, following Khan’s release on bail, the former Prime Minister and his party distanced themselves from the violence, stressing his support for peaceful protest.


Law enforcements agencies have been making arrests of party workers, leaders, and members of civil society. Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner, Rimmel Mohydin urged the authorities to exercise control over the arrests. Imran Khan’s supporters claim that the constitutional crisis is the direct result of the government not holding elections within 90 days of assemblies getting dissolved. They also claim Khan’s arrest was made on the orders of the army chief, General Asim Munir.


The government, headed by Shehbaz Sharif, has decided to prosecute the protesters under the Army Act 1952. The Pakistan Army Act and Official Services Act was amended in 2015 to charge legal proceedings against the civilians in military courts. The Act was previously only used to prosecute army officials. This has been met with intense resistance. Pakistan’s People Party, which prides itself on the rule of law and civilian supremacy, has come under scrutiny for supporting this move by the government, which will see military courts handling matters pertaining to civilian domain.


Khan’s opposition insists that the Supreme Court of Pakistan is showing leniency towards PTI and Khan, who is now out on bail. But the recent developments depict otherwise. Prominent leaders of PTI have been arrested even after making bail from the court. At the time of writing, four notable members of PTI have left the party, citing that they cannot remain part of something that is in confrontation with the Pakistani army. However, the PTI chief believes this will not dent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s popularity among the masses.

Upon getting bail, Khan said that it was not the army, but one person who was behind all the ‘politically motivated’ cases against him: the army chief. Many journalists and political commentators lauded Khan for publicly naming who was behind all the chaos, but some intellectuals believe Khan is just playing politics, as he had already elucidated that he wants a professional relationship with General Asim Munir if he becomes the Prime Minister again. Interestingly, ISPR, the media wing of the armed forces, in a statement has refused any chance of martial law in the country, which gives a glimmer of hope that the ongoing constitutional crisis will be dealt through an electoral process.


Many believe Khan’s political opponents are trying to restrict PTI by putting him behind bars in an attempt to weaken PTI’s political momentum. They cite various other events across the nation that are seen as politically motivated against PTI. Such as the interim government of Punjab, who gave a deadline to PTI officials to surrender the criminals involved in various acts of arson and damaging of public property, whom they believe are hiding in Imran Khan’s residence in Lahore. They have threatened another police operation, if PTI do not meet the terms of this deadline. Similarly, the UAE allegedly offered their services to moderate between Imran Khan and the military establishment, but General Asim was not too keen on the proposal. Thus the negotiation talks over the elections between the government and PTI remain in lull at the moment.


General elections seem to be the likely solution of the ongoing civil unrest. If the government decides to opt for delaying tactics, not only will it exhaust its support, but it will also set a frightening precedent where the constitution will no longer be supreme.


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