Khan: Imran Khan’s turn from military to military critic

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan has gone from being an elected official to being a thorn in the side of Pakistan’s military, long considered the country’s political powerhouse.
His arrest this week – after delivering another broadside against a senior intelligence officer – marks an escalation in the duel between Khan’s staggering popular appeal and the army’s vast influence.
“What he did was speak calm words out loud and broke some of the taboos that were directly critical of the Pakistani establishment, and its military in particular,” analyst Elizabeth said. Limit at the US-based Stimson Center.
“Now that this genie is out of the bottle, it’s proving quite difficult, if not impossible, to put it back in,” she told AFP.
Pakistan’s military has staged three coups since independence in 1947, has ruled the country directly for more than three decades, and continues to wield enormous influence over domestic politics.
When Khan came to power in 2018 after winning over an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of Pakistan’s two main parties, many political leaders and analysts said it was with the blessing of the military establishment.
Likewise, his ousting last April by a parliamentary vote of no confidence only came after a falling out with the top brass of the world’s sixth largest army.
The relationship began to deteriorate following pressure from Khan for more say in foreign policy, as well as a standoff with the military over a delay in approving the appointment of a new head of the information.
But in his campaign to return to power, the 70-year-old broke with political convention and directly criticized retired and serving officers.
The hugely popular Khan “does not feel beholden to the same benefactors” that previous prime ministers might have had, Threlkeld said.
After the former cricket superstar was ousted, his successor Shehbaz Sharif appointed a new army chief – widening the rift with Khan by selecting a man who had fallen out with him while in office.
Sharif’s government also drafted new regulations to protect the army from criticism.
In February, Islamabad proposed punishing those who ridicule the military with up to five years in prison. In March, media outlets suggested they were also taking steps to curb criticism on social media.
Nonetheless, Khan has steadily escalated his attacks over the past year, culminating in explosive allegations following an assassination attempt in November, which saw Khan shot in the leg as he was on the campaign trail.
Khan alleged that a senior intelligence officer, Major General Faisal Naseer, was in cahoots with Sharif in plotting the attack.
“Maybe he thought that by pressuring the army, by criticizing the army, the army would withdraw from supporting the current government,” an analyst said. Hassan Askari.
“It’s a risky strategy,” he told AFP.
Khan never offered proof of his claims regarding the assassination plot.
This weekend he repeated the allegations, prompting the Army’s public relations wing to up the ante with a rare public rebuke, calling his remarks “fabricated and malicious”.
A day later, Khan was overrun by paramilitary Rangers and arrested at the High Court in Islamabad as he appeared to be facing a corruption case.
“The timing of the arrest is striking,” said Michael Kugelmandirector of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.
“The senior army leadership is not interested in mending the rift between themselves and Khan, and so with this arrest they are probably sending the message that the gloves are really badly made.”
Supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have upped the ante by attacking military targets – burning down the corps commander’s residence in Lahore and attacking the entrance to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
In Peshawar, a mob razed the Chaghi Monument – a mountain-like sculpture honoring the site of Pakistan’s first nuclear test, while several memorials to military personnel killed on active duty were also vandalized.
On the streets of major cities, images on social media showed PTI supporters attacking army vehicles on security duty, trying to hit soldiers with sticks.
“The long-term future of democracy at this stage appears to be very uncertain in Pakistan,” Askari warned.


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