KARACHI: Former prime minister Imran Khan, who had been a blue-eyed politician of the establishment until recently, is now standing up to it. The gulf between Khan and the establishment has widened following violent attacks by his party activists on military installations following his arrest on May 9. Though the PTI chief was released on bail on an Islamabad High Court order on May 12, challenges for his party have multiplied. The coalition government and the military leadership have made it clear that the attacks on army installations were carried out by PTI workers, including Afghan immigrants. In the past three days, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has chaired a key meeting of the National Security Committee while Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir chaired a Corps Commanders’ Conference, wherein the conclusion was that these attacks were orchestrated under a conspiracy and those involved would face trial under the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act, triggering a discussion on whether they should be tried under these laws or not and what impact they would have on the country’s justice system.
As this debate continues, Khan has claimed that the attacks on military installations were not carried out by his workers; rather, the miscreants included “agencies’ men” and all this has been done to impose a ban on his party. He is peddling a narrative that he has never resorted to violence in his 27-year-long peaceful political history. But the fact is that Khan is the country’s only leader who during his political struggle supported an extraordinary violent behaviour to further his political interests. However, the only difference is that in the past whenever his party resorted to violence it had backing of the army and the judiciary and that behavior was therefore justified on one pretext or the other, and he and his party kept getting relief from courts. This time round, when PTI workers have used violence, they have support from within the judiciary, but not the army’s backing. Imran Khan has been claiming that his political struggle has been peaceful, but from 2014 to 2023 his is the only party that has fuelled an unusually violent behaviour. So, there is a need to recall some of these facts to refresh one’s memory.
In 2014, Imran Khan announced an Azadi March to Islamabad to press for a recount of votes in four constituencies, but later he started demanding then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. He was granted permission for holding a march with the caveat that they would not go beyond the Islamabad Stadium, but later he entered the Red Zone without permission. The PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek started their march towards Islamabad from Lahore separately on August 14, 2014. The PTI against its earlier plans first reached Islamabad and then the Azadi March reached Zero Point on August 16, on August 19 the party marched towards Red Zone and next day they were in the Red Zone.
On August 30, the sit-in leadership asked the protesters to march on the Prime Minister’s House, after which they clashed with police. On August 30, 2014, PTI and PAT workers tried to break into the Parliament House by pulling down its gates with a truck. The following day, the workers stormed the PTV headquarters and the state-owned television channel’s transmission was taken off air for the first time in history. Around 500 people got injured in clashes with police. The protesters not only entered the PTV offices but also broke into the Pakistan Secretariat. Later, President Arif Alvi and Khan’s audio clips surfaced in which the former informed the latter about the attack on the PTV offices, but the latter instead of condemning it expressed his pleasure over the incident.
In the 2014 protest, the PTI activists not only beat up police personnel but also tortured SSP Asmatullah Junejo in front of his subordinates. And when the police apprehended PTI workers, Khan himself reached there to get them freed. His power flowed from the establishment’s support and this fact is known to everybody now.
Perhaps Imran Khan has forgotten the threats that he would extend to police officials while standing atop a container at D-Chowk. He would say, “IG, I will grab you by the neck and won’t let you go. Where will you go?” Apart from this, he declared the parliament bogus and gave a call for civil disobedience and to torch gas bills at rallies. He asked people not to pay their taxes or bills. Later, he announced countrywide strike and efforts were made to force closure of businesses to make the protest a success. President Alvi came out on the roads and kept saying that no vehicle would be allowed to ply. Khan and other PTI leaders were booked in terrorism cases for the PTV office attack and were declared fugitives from law over failure to appear in court. Nevertheless, Khan would appear before the Supreme Court when the Panama case was instituted against then PM Nawaz Sharif in 2016. Interestingly, Khan was an absconder and the Supreme Court never inquired him about that and the cases dragged on.
In 2018, the PTI came to power and Imran Khan became prime minister. He was acquitted in that case after two years. Alvi and all other PTI leaders who were federal ministers at that time were also given a clean chit in the case in March 2022.
The important thing is that due to the Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government, the prosecution did not oppose the acquittal of the accused and called it a political case, instead. In October 2020, Imran Khan was acquitted in the case. The government lawyer gave arguments in favour of Khan’s acquittal and told the court that “the case against Imran Khan is political”. The lawyer said, “A trial against Khan will only waste the court’s time. If he is acquitted, we will have no objection.” Thus, Khan was acquitted in the case during his own government.
The violent behaviour of Imran Khan’s party was seen again after his government was ousted by opposition parties through a no-confidence motion in April 2022. Khan was once again in the opposition and announced he would take to the streets.
On May 25 last year, Khan reached Islamabad leading a long march, and not only he continued to violate orders of the Supreme Court, but his workers also entered the Red Zone and vandalized public properties. Due to the incidents of May 25, Khan is facing a contempt of court case in the Supreme Court, but hearing of the case has not been fixed for the past several months. On May 25, the PTI itself requested the SC to allow it to hold a protest in the H-9 Park. Upon the PTI’s request, the apex court allowed the PTI to hold a demonstration in the H-9 Park and made it clear that “the court expects the Tehreek-e-Insaf committee to make sure that no untoward incident will take place anywhere in the country, especially in Islamabad, and no property will be damaged”.
The court in its decision directed the chief commissioner of Islamabad to immediately let the PTI use the ground located between H-9 and G-9 for protest. As soon as this decision came on May 25, 2022, Imran Khan stood on a container and praised the apex court’s decision. However, at the same time, he directed his workers to reach D-Chowk and then the same night former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said: “We will go to D-Chowk. This is a political matter. The courts can’t make a decision on it.”
After that, PTI workers reached D-Chowk on Khan’s call of May 25, where they started vandalizing properties and set fire to trees throughout the night. The next morning Khan addressed his workers on Jinnah Avenue and suddenly ended the sit-in.
However, during a hearing in the Supreme Court that day, Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali played Imran Khan’s video message in which he was instructing the workers to reach D-Chowk. At this, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked: “It is possible that Imran Khan was misinformed. Tell us what happened after this statement. We are not sitting in the court to accuse people. The green belts in Islamabad were being burnt to avoid the tear gas.”
Later, when Khan himself submitted his reply regarding contempt of court, surprisingly he took exactly the same stance hinted at by the chief justice. Khan in his reply wrote: “I am not aware of any such statement or assurance which may have been given before this court at my or senior Tehreek-e-Insaf leadership’s behest regarding May 25, nor do I know of the details of the Supreme Court order issued on May 25 at 6pm.”
Apart from this, Babar Awan and Faisal Chaudhry had even said in their replies that there neither Imran Khan’s lawyers nor did they have any contact with him on May 25. The court has not heard the case for several months. But when a few days ago, when NAB arrested Khan and the chief justice of the Supreme Court ordered presenting him before him, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar sitting on the bench remarked while recalling this case: “The contempt of court case against Tehreek-e-Insaf on May 25 is also pending.” But Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial intervened and said: “The case my fellow judges are referring to is not before us.”
It has been almost a year since this incident took place. All the records and evidences are before the Supreme Court, and reports of the government and state institutions have been submitted to the court, but the chief justice has not scheduled a hearing in this regard for the past several months. Not only this, Imran Khan has been violating court orders this year too and has clashed with police many times by using his workers as a shield to avoid arrest. Each time, all legal processes and government machinery have seemed helpless before him and courts have been giving him relief.
On February 28, a non-bailable warrant was issued for Khan for his continuous failure to appear in the Tosha Khana case, and on March 5, 2023, Islamabad police reached Zaman Park, Lahore, to serve him the warrant and arrest him. For several hours, Police stood outside Zaman Park and Imran Khan avoided his arrest. Workers were used as a shield. PTI workers clashed with the police and the head of the police team with a warrant entered the Zaman Park residence. Khan’s chief of staff Shibli Faraz received the warrant but wrote on the warrant that “Imran Khan is not available”.
But after a while, Imran Khan was seen giving a speech inside Zaman Park, which was telecasted by media. At this, the police announced action against Shibli Faraz. Thus, on March 7, 2023, Imran Khan was once again absent in the Tosha Khana case, and on the same day, the Islamabad High Court suspended his warrant and ordered him to appear in the session court on March 13. But despite this, Khan did not go to the court on March 13. In fact, he led a rally in Lahore and violated the orders of the Islamabad High Court, after which his non-bail able arrest warrant was restored. On March 14, the Islamabad police, under the leadership of DIG Operations Shehzad Bukhari, reached Zaman Park to arrest Khan, and once again the police and PTI workers came face to face. The police faced stiff resistance to go near Khan’s residence as activists pelted the cops with stones. In response, the police used water cannons, batons and tear gas shells. Some PIT activists were arrested, and 58 policemen, including DIG Operations Shehzad Bukhari, and eight civilians and PTI workers were injured in the clashes.
Instead of retreating, the PTI workers became more enraged. They also burnt the water cannon, damaged a police vehicle, and burnt motorcycles of traffic wardens, and when a fire tender of Rescue 1122 arrived to extinguish the fire, they also set it on fire. The activists also threw petrol bombs from inside Zaman Park and the police recovered petrol bombs. But the confrontation in the Tosha Khana case did not stop there. After several days of confrontation, chaos and dictating his own terms at the same time, Imran Khan reached the trial court on March 18, 2023. When he entered the judicial complex with a crowd of his workers, severe disorder was observed outside the judicial complex. There were riots, vandalism and clashes between PTI workers and police personnel. The entire judicial complex was besieged, and even the court order sheet was lost on which Imran Khan was to sign to mark his presence. The police and Khan’s lawyers kept accusing each other, and Khan left for Lahore without appearing before the court.
The important thing is that until this appearance of Khan, there was an environment where he used to bring his workers to the courts. This would disturb the entire court atmosphere, but Khan used to take the position that “he does not call the workers but they themselves come”.
In other words, in the last nine years, Khan has continued to escape being brought to justice despite repeated attacks on government buildings, parliament and police, and now when military buildings are being attacked, he is saying that the PTI has been peaceful for 27 years, and these attacks have been orchestrated by the army and agencies themselves to pit his party against the army.
Khan’s this strategy has been successful in the last nine years, but now after the direct attack on military installations, this strategy is backfiring for the PTI and the coming days could be cause problems for his party.