Pakistan’s ongoing political turmoil has reached its zenith this month, with the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the subsequent fallout. The core of this conflict is evident: it pits Khan against Pakistan’s military establishment, and the confrontation is now in full swing.
Khan’s arrest on May 9, executed by numerous paramilitary troops in riot gear on the premises of the Islamabad High Court, ostensibly revolves around a corruption case. However, the manner and timing of his arrest, occurring shortly after he had firmly reiterated his accusations against a senior intelligence official for an assassination attempt against him last November, strongly suggest that this arrest is primarily about the power struggle between Khan and Pakistan’s military establishment. This conflict had its roots in Khan’s ouster in a vote of no-confidence last spring.
The arrest triggered nationwide protests on the same day, some of which turned violent, leading to acts of vandalism against military installations. Unprecedentedly, protesters targeted the gate of the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the residence of the corps commander in Lahore, and other structures, including Radio Pakistan offices in Peshawar. Tragically, at least eight individuals lost their lives in clashes with the police. In response, the country’s telecommunications authority suspended mobile internet services and social media access for several days. As a reaction to the protests, law enforcement detained thousands of Khan’s party workers, reportedly subjecting their families to harassment in the process. Many of these detainees have yet to face a court appearance. In addition to party workers, they also arrested prominent leaders of Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as well as key members of his former cabinet, including his former foreign minister, finance minister, human rights minister, and information minister.
On May 11, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Khan’s arrest on court premises was unlawful, and the Islamabad High Court granted him bail the following day. Upon his release, Khan directly implicated Pakistan’s army chief, General Asim Munir, in the matter.