NEW DELHI: The political fate of Pakistan‘s former prime minister Imran Khan hangs precariously following his conviction and three-year imprisonment in a graft case.

Khan, Pakistan’s main opposition leader, faces a long legal battle to save his political career ahead of a national election expected later this year.
The outspoken PTI leader’s political career has seen a major downslide ever since his ouster from power last year. Since then, Khan has been embroiled in several court cases, lost his top party aides, and even antagonised the all-powerful military.

So what’s the road ahead for the embattled leader?
Next general election
According to Pakistani law, Khan’s conviction carries a disqualification from holding public office, the length of which will be decided by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Legally, that could be a maximum of five years starting from the conviction date.
But the Supreme Court could impose a life ban if it ruled that he was guilty of dishonesty and so could not meet the constitutional requirement for public office holders to be “truthful” and “honest”. Such a ruling was made against three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2018.
In either case, Khan faces being excluded from the next general election due by November.
However, if the conviction was suspended, Khan could still be eligible to contest the next election.
The court had expedited the trial after Khan refused to appear before it for months despite being summoned repeatedly.
However, this is just one of more than 150 cases being prepared against him, including two major cases that are well advanced – a land fraud case and charges of abetting attacks on the military in the aftermath of his arrest in May.
He is likely to be shuttled from one court to the other as he serves the three-year jail term.
Military angle
Apart from his many legal woes – Khan claims there are over 70 cases registered against him – the former cricketer’s standoff with the country’s powerful military could be the last nail in his political coffin.
Once the blue-eyed boy of the military, Khan has managed to alienate the powerful army with his statements against the ISI chief.
Khan alleges that the military orchestrated his removal from power and initiated a crackdown on him and his political party. The military refutes these claims, yet Khan’s critical rhetoric against the military establishment persists.
Fate of party
With Khan behind bars, his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is now under the leadership of former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The PTI had already been weakened by the departure of numerous key figures in the aftermath of the May 9 violence and ensuing crackdown, resulting in the detention of multiple leaders and hundreds of party members.
While the PTI retains significant popularity, as indicated by polls, much of its success had been attributed to Khan’s personal charisma. Qureshi lacks the same level of individual following and may struggle to replicate Khan’s organizational prowess.
Khan had managed to sustain his supporters’ engagement through his presence on various social media platforms, such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, with regular speeches. However, this avenue is now closed to him.
Does it mean it’s the end of the road?
Not necessarily.
In a country like Pakistan, the fate of political leaders largely depends on the government of the day.
Historically, Pakistan has witnessed instances where incarcerated leaders have gained enhanced popularity upon release — both Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, the incumbent prime minister, encountered imprisonment on corruption charges prior to reclaiming power.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari similarly experienced a period of incarceration before reentering the political arena.
But in the foreseeable future, Khan’s political innings appears to have hit a rough patch.
(With inputs from Reuters)

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