Khan’s Opponents Ordered Arrest Over Fears He ‘Cannot Be Defeated Electorally’

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Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gives the victory sign to supporters as he leads a march toward Islamabad, in Swabi, Pakistan, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.InternationalIndiaAfricaOn Tuesday, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, ousted by parliament last year, was arrested on terrorism charges and others stemming from a March clash between police and his supporters. However, on Thursday, the nation’s high court declared the arrest illegal and ordered his release.The arrest of the highly popular politician touched off days of protests and riots, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of his supporters, including several high-ranking leaders of Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan’s political party.”I think the confrontation between the present government and Imran Khan has been going on for the last 2-3 years, and this has peaked now when they arrested Imran Khan on [May 9],” Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent independent political and defense analyst based in Lahore, Pakistan, told Sputnik on Thursday.

Noting the court's recent release order, Rizvi said that "given the confrontation, it seems that the government and the NAB, the Accountability Bureau, will again arrest him maybe in a day or so. So we think that this confrontation will go on because the government doesn't appear to be interested in elections and they want to move him aside from the political domain so that he does not become a threat in the elections."

Rizvi said he expected the arrest, ordered by the office of the High Court in Islamabad, would be ruled illegal, calling it “a violation of the legal tradition that is established in Pakistan.”

"However, the government will not sit back. Imran Khan is likely to be arrested for one reason or the other in 24 or 48 hours. That's what we expect," he added.

Sputnik ExplainsWhat is Known So Far About Pakistan’s Riots Following Imran Khan’s ArrestYesterday, 14:47 GMTThe expert said Khan will still have to go back to the Islamabad high court on Friday to apply for bail.

"And we'll see what happens to that case that he's going to file tomorrow. And if he doesn't get a bail, then there is a greater possibility that the NAB and the government may arrest him again," Rizvi said.

“Tomorrow, he will go to the Islamabad high court, because he was there in that court on the 9th of May for the appearance and for bail. Then he was arrested inside the office of the court, and therefore he will go there to apply for, I think, bail tomorrow. And we’ll see what happens to that case that he’s going to file tomorrow. And if he doesn’t get a bail, then there is a greater possibility that the NAB and the government may arrest him again.”

Asked about the affair’s potential international repercussions, Rizvi said that was “not the focus of attention of this controversy,” telling Sputnik “the issues at stake are domestic.”

"On the one hand, the economy in Pakistan is in shambles, facing a lot of problems, and this has enabled Imran Khan to mobilize popular support for him, especially amongst the young people. And therefore the government is somewhat reluctant to hold elections because they feel that given his popularity at the moment, he may perform better and that may put the present government out of power. And then they fear that Imran Khan would also use state apparatus against them," he explained.

However, he noted that the crisis has the potential to disrupt projects such as the infrastructure work undertaken as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – which would only make the political instability worse.“I think nobody in Pakistan benefits, because this diverts attention from the economic problems that Pakistan is facing. Pakistan has a serious economic crisis and there is a lot of inflation and price hikes in Pakistan, which have adversely affected the common people, who find it difficult to cope with the increasing prices,” he added.”Therefore, the chances of the government addressing these economic problems in relation with the international system and economic problems in relation to common people, they will not be able to address that. Which means that if political conflict persists, then the economic crisis will also persist. And if the economic and political crises continue, then, I’m afraid, Pakistan may go through a longer period of instability.”AsiaChina Ready to Intensify Cooperation With Pakistan on Afghan Issue – Foreign Minister6 May, 07:00 GMTRizvi also sought to assuage concerns about Pakistan’s roughly 70-90 nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands as a result of the crisis, explaining there is “no difference of opinion on the nuclear issue” between Khan and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced him after his ouster.

"They share the major features of Pakistan's external relations and also relevance and importance of nuclear capability as a deterrence and its importance for security. That is equally shared by the government and the opposition. That's why they are not raising this kind of issue."

“Secondly, in this nuclear program, the security forces of Pakistan are playing an important role and they are managing a lot of security affairs relating to nuclear and non-nuclear issues. And the security forces are a very cohesive, very integrated and disciplined institution. Therefore, they will continue to take care of that. And I don’t think this conflict that is there between government and opposition will have any negative implications for Pakistan’s security imperative that also includes nuclear security,” Rizvi explained.Syed Ali Zia Jaffery, Deputy Director at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, University of Lahore, and Associate Editor of Pakistan Politico, told Sputnik that Sharif’s government fears Khan cannot be defeated electorally.

"As evidenced by the events of the past 13 months, Imran Khan is Pakistan's most popular leader by a stretch, there are no two ways about it. His popularity as per the latest surveys, is roughly between 61 and 68%. And his rivals, even when combined, do not constitute half of it. Also, he has conducted close to 70 political gatherings, which have drawn huge crowds all across the country. Besides, he has won 29 of the 37 by-polls that have been held across the country. And yes, the government has tried its level best to stop the elections despite the orders of the Supreme Court and clear cut provisions of the Constitution,” Jaffery said. “So absolutely, I think the government feels that, as of now, Imran Khan cannot be defeated electorally."

Jaffery said that Khan’s release “will help calm some nerves out there,” noting that “had this decision not come today, things could have escalated further.”WorldImran Khan’s Party Accuses Pakistani Authorities of ‘Endangering’ His Life25 November 2022, 10:53 GMTHowever, he added that “nobody benefits from this chaos. Chaos is never good news for any country, including Pakistan. The government, by using high-handed tactics, is not making things easier for itself, as the public is not happy with it and its policies. Add to the mix soaring inflation and unemployment the government has a big problem on its hands.”Similar to Rizvi, he also rejected the idea that attitudes about foreign relations had any appreciable impact on the crisis.“I think Imran Khan had and has a very clear stand on Pakistan’s foreign policy. I think what he wanted was to anchor his foreign policy within the constructs of Pakistan’s economic development, internal security, and regional connectivity. And with that in mind, he obviously wanted to have excellent relations with the US and strategic relations with China. He was willing to have a major say in Pakistan’s policy towards the Muslim world, as evidenced by his being keen to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as between the US and Iran. And he was also turning a page, so to speak, with Russia,” he said.”That said, at the state level, Pakistan’s policy is pretty consistent. Pakistan does not want to get into camp politics. If anything, it wants to be a melting pot for all countries and interests. So, while there would be attitudinal and tactical differences between Khan’s approaches towards foreign policy and those of the opposition, Pakistan’s core direction will remain rather similar,” Jaffrey added.However, it could have a major impact not just on the progress of the CPEC, but the entire Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese-financed, globe-spanning infrastructure megaproject.WorldImran Khan Blames ‘Regime Change Conspiracy’ for Pakistan’s Economic Woes18 November 2022, 09:27 GMT

"Pakistan is one of the most integral parts of China's Belt and Road initiative, simply because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Definitely, instability in Pakistan is not good news for Sino-Pak relations. While instability will cause a rupture in ties, it does not work well for Pakistan's economy. The economy is not nosediving like anything. And this continued political instability is going to badly impact the economy. And when the economy takes a hit, Pakistan's ability to partner China as one of the linchpins of the BRI gets hampered. So obviously, when political stability will come and the economy will start to recuperate, Pakistan will be in a better position to partner with China and create win-win scenarios in the region and beyond."

Jaffery noted that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons system is “foolproof,” saying the command and control (C2) system is “well in place and working” and there was no connection “between instability in Pakistan and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety.”

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