The attempt to arrest Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan had all the hallmarks of theatre of the absurd.
The arrest warrant was issued against Khan after he failed to appear in court for the hearing listed for February 28 for failing to declare gifts received during his time in office and even selling some of them. Under Pakistani law, officials must declare all gifts, but are allowed to keep those below a certain value.
But on Sunday, as a police team from Islamabad arrived at Khan’s sprawling Zaman Park residence in Lahore, Khan was apparently “unavailable.” According to a tweet put out by the Islamabad police, "Imran Khan is reluctant to surrender -- the Superintendent of Police had gone into the room but Imran Khan was not present there."
“PTI leaders said that Imran Khan is not present at the residence. Action will be taken against Shibli Faraz for misrepresentation in the way of legal action- PTI leaders have assured that they will follow the law so we hope they will appear before the court,“ said another.
Yet even as the police team arrived at Khan’s house, which was surrounded by his supporters, Khan was addressing workers of his Tehreek I Insaaf or PTI, inside his house, lauding them for the overwhelming response to his call for a 'Jail Bharo Tehreek' or court arrest movement. "It will be a bad omen for the country if the nation does not stand against the corrupt rulers," said Khan, adding: “I am being summoned in fake cases and the nation should know about them."
His deputy and former foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, later said that while "we have received the notice from Islamabad police -- the notice does not contain any order for the arrest."
Maryam Nawaz, Senior Vice President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N), (PML-N) and daughter of former prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is exile in London with several corruption cases pending against him, mocked Khan for avoiding arrest while asking his supporters to court arrest and fill jails.
Taking to Twitter, she urged her father to lend Khan some courage.
Maryam Nawaz mocked Imran Khan on social media for avoiding arrest by the police on Sunday. Taking to her official Twitter handle, she asked Nawaz Sharif to lend some courage to Imran Khan, and said Khan’s ‘jail bharo’ movement was the most unsuccessful movement in Pakistan’s history.
"If a jackal is a thief, he hides behind other's daughters and uses them as a shield for fear of his arrest," and the nation had now come to know the difference between a lion and a jackal, she added in another tweet.
Khan, who was ousted by a no confidence movement after serving as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan from August 2018 until April 2022, has been demanding early elections and indulged in several shows of strength across the country, with millions of his supporters taking to the streets in protest. Following an alleged assassination attempt in November last year, his popularity ratings shot up further.
The interim government led by Shehbaz Sharif, former Punjab chief minister and brother of Nawaz Sharif, has been grappling with an economic meltdown, terrorist acts by the Pakistani Taliban and other zealots, and political turmoil with several senior PMNL leaders quitting in protest over the appointment of Maryam Sharif as party vice president.
Separately, in an obvious attempt to muzzle Khan, the government accused Khan of making “provocative statements against the state institutions and officers,” and banned any broadcast his speeches on TV channels with immediate effect. The ruling hours after the botched attempt to arrest the PI leader in Lahore. According to the notification, Khan’s incendiary statements spread hate against the state institutions and their officers, and could cause a law and order situation in the country. On February 21, another ruling had banned television coverage of terror attacks. This followed an earlier ban on covering rape incidents after a few channels revealed the identity of a rape victim who was molested in Islamabad’s F-9 park on February 2.
It is perhaps a reflection on Pakistan’s political system that Khan remains popular despite his reputation for dramatic U-turns on almost every issue he has taken a stand on.
In fact, barely two months after he was named Prime Minister, he took to Twitter to claim that U-turns were a sign of ‘great leadership.’ “Doing a U-turn to reach an objective is the hallmark of great leadership just as lying to save ill-gotten wealth is the hallmark of crooks,” he said.
After his ouster, Khan had accused the US of conspiring with the Pakistani army of conspiring to topple his government. Weeks later, he said it was the powerful ‘establishment’ which was behind his ouster. Soon afterwards, he said it was a conspiracy by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, and fundamentalist religious leader Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of plotting against him.
And finally, in February, he said it was not the US, but then Army Chief Qamar Bajwa who had convinced the US that Khan was anti-American. “I’m surprised he hasn’t blamed Allah for his ouster yet,” a disgruntled party worker was quoted as saying.
However, at the end of the day, as Islamabad based analyst and commentator Mohammed Shehzad explained, it’s not the political parties nor the religious outfits that are gaining ground in this political, economic and social chaos plaguing Pakistan, but the fundamentalist terrorist outfits, who have made major inroads through their charitable work during last year’s devastating floods and the current economic turmoil which has left large numbers of Pakistanis unable to feed their families.
And if that is indeed correct, the world needs to really sit up and take notice.
Ramananda Sengupta is a foreign and strategic affairs analyst
(To receive our E-paper on WhatsApp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)