Exile or Execution: Imran Khan’s Dilemma of Destiny

By: Amin Kawa

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is in a pressing situation. He is in the abyss of the rage of the army and on the verge of exile or execution. Life imprisonment, exclusion from politics and elections, and house arrest are among the other possibilities for Khan’s political destiny. Currently, although a number of leaders of the coalition government of Pakistan are not content with the army, in order to eliminate the rival, they do not hesitate to make any effort and align with the army to bring down Khan and his party. Consequently, this action severely damages the stability and future of democracy in this country. Increasing the strength of the army and venting its anger on politicians is detrimental to democracy in Pakistan and the region.

Any action that marginalizes the civil and pro-democracy forces is for the benefit of exclusivism, stratification, militarization, fundamentalism, and postponing the creation of democratic, legitimate, and people’s governments, which Pakistan is suffering from in this area. In one-odd year Khan and the Pakistani army once again show the dominance of the army in empowering and subduing the political forces in this country. Khan is facing a gloomy and grim political fate despite his unprecedented support and appeal among the masses. It is likely that he will not be able to survive the wrath of the army. If Khan saves himself from the army with the support of the people, exile or execution will be the possibility of his fate.

The conflict between Khan and the Pakistani army dates back to October 2021 over the appointment of the head of the country’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) when he opposed the selection of the proposed head of ISI. This action subjected him to endure the military’s anger. Considering the snares made for him during this period and the accusations against him, Khan can hardly get himself out of the army’s wrath. The army had initially declared Khan as a savior and his opponents as corrupt by the Pakistani media, whereas, now, through the same media, he is being labeled as an enemy of Pakistan and a perpetrator of terrorist acts. Due to the pressure of the army during the last two weeks, dozens of senior members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by Imran Khan have left this party and even politics and have apologized to the people and the army.

At the behest of the army, the coalition government of Pakistan has approved a resolution in the parliament of this country to bring to trial the supporters of the former prime minister of Pakistan. According to this resolution, those who attacked military installations and generals’ houses in support of Khan will go on trial in military courts as “rioters and villains”. The coalition government of Pakistan has so far handed over 33 protesters to the army for military trial. The Pakistan Army, humiliated by its former “idol”, appears to be paving the way for Khan to be tried in a military court as well.

The tension between the army and Imran Khan was mild in the first months of his dismissal from the position of prime minister. At that time, Khan accused only Qamar Javed Bajwa, the former army chief, of contributing to his dismissal. Subsequently, he accused Faisal Naseer, one of the senior military officers, of intending to execute him. After Khan was arrested, he also accused General Asim Munir, the head of the army, of attempting to arrest and assassinate him. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan was released on bail after a day of detention by the Supreme Court of this country. However, some Pakistani media claim that Khan was released from prison on May 9 this year due to the pressure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This claim is made while his supporters came to the streets all over Pakistan, posing a serious challenge to the government and the military of this country. Some Democratic politicians in Pakistan believe that Khan, at the time of his supporters’ demonstrations, thought that his arrest would align his allied generals in the army and remove Munir Asim, but the soldiers are angry with the attack on the military facilities and the burning of the houses of several generals and thus they have preferred to stay with their leader.

By arresting, pressuring, and threatening PTI members, the army showed that it can completely marginalize Khan. If the army is able to bring Khan to a military court, it is not unlikely that he will suffer the fate of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the late Prime Minister of this country.

In 1979, the Pakistani army executed Bhutto in a military court. Bhutto did not need the backing of the army. He had a strong base among the people and political leaders, but Khan’s four-year tenure has been entirely dependent on the military. The army, which did not fail to make any efforts to bring Khan to power, is likely to take its last revenge on him with his party being dismantled. His political position among other parties has been degraded enough and he may be deprived of running an effective election campaign. Khan, however, still retains considerable appeal and support among the masses and is widely supported by young people and women.

Recently, Rana Sanaullah, the Minister of Interior of Pakistan, told the media that Khan will likely be tried in a military court in connection with the burning of the house of the commander of the Lahore Corps by PTI supporters. On the other hand, a number of analysts of the Pakistani situation say that currently, disqualification from elections, re-arrest, deportation, and execution are on the table of the army as the leading judicial institution of Pakistan regarding Khan. Analyzing the current situation in Pakistan, we can observe many similarities between the trials of Khan and Bhutto. Bhutto was released on bail by the Supreme Court in the summer of 1977 and received great public support, and so did Khan, with the difference that Bhutto was arrested twice.

Bhutto was executed in the second round of his arrest on charges of treason. The former prime minister of Pakistan, Yusuf Raza Gilani, said about the reopening of Bhutto’s murder case, “The judges who executed Bhutto’s death sentence later said that they did so under the pressure of Zia-ul-Haq’s military government.” When Bhutto was the prime minister, a case of murder of a political opponent was filed against him in the court, which was settled at the time, but when Bhutto was ousted, Zia-ul-Haq reopened it in much more hostile terms in September 1977. Over time, the former president of Pakistan kept postponing the election, justifying that it was not mentioned in the holy Quran to hold the election at a certain time. He was afraid that if Bhutto had been released from prison, he would have won the elections. A similar fear exists among the army and politicians who oppose Khan.

Khan’s exile, deprivation of political activity, or execution will have negative consequences on Pakistan’s politics. Banning PTI and condemning Khan to any punishment will determine the future patterns of the military’s coercive power in controlling the political class and the democratic process in this country. Khan’s departure and stay in Pakistan’s politics may not be very important, but the impact his trial leaves on the history and political tradition of this country is devastating and irreparable. If the Pakistani army can try Khan in a military court, the anger of the army to remove political figures in Pakistan will continue for many years.