Imran Khan’s imprisonment following conviction in a corruption case is being projected as “custodial torture” and the “Death of Democracy.” The Army is portrayed as an alleged engineer of the country’s political and electoral processes.… writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
A no-holds-barred campaign abroad against the Pakistani elite, run at the behest of and on behalf of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, is hurting the country, adding to its reputation as an unstable polity under social and economic stress.
The principal target is the Pakistan Army whose reputation is being sullied, not as a military but as an alleged engineer of the country’s political and electoral processes. Khan’s imprisonment following conviction in a corruption case is being projected as “custodial torture” and the “Death of Democracy”.
The man being attacked is the army chief, General Syed Asim Munir, whom Khan had scuttled when in power and opposed even later. A protégé-turned-adversary, Khan divided the top military ranks till Munir resorted to ‘cleansing’ his stable. But there is no clear estimation of Khan’s popularity among the top and middle brass and more importantly, Pakistan’s growing middle class.
The campaign is proving formidable for the ‘establishment’ since it is located beyond the country’s borders, in the Western world, notably the United States and the United Kingdom, where the army has, since the birth of Pakistan in 1947, carved a niche in the strategic calculus of how the West views South Asia.
The West is wary of Pakistan because of the latter’s growing alliance and dependence upon China, but old ties and Pakistan’s geopolitical location compel it to keep wooing the country.
Watching the situation closely, the US and the UK are careful not to take sides despite pressures from their vocal Pakistani diasporas. Those in the US have been lobbying with American lawmakers with fair success, analysts say. The arrest of Imran Khan is Pakistan’s “internal matter”, a U.S. State Department spokesman said on August 7, declining to take a position on Khan’s legal troubles. A frequent U.S. critic, he had accused Washington of hatching a ‘conspiracy’ to oust him. A cypher message from the then-Pakistani envoy in Washington, based on talks with Donald Lu of the US State Department that Khan had flaunted on being ousted, continues to fan the controversy.
Certain of being imprisoned, Khan switched strategy and turned his supporters abroad into campaigners against his “human rights violations.” A former cricketing hero and a part of the British elite (he once married a British heiress), Khan has cultivated Pakistanis abroad for many years. It is now paying dividends.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists organized a conference in Washington DC and during this conference, the US Government was asked why a lifeline of 3 billion dollars was given to Pakistan – referring to the IMF standby agreement signed by Pakistan.” This is hurting cash-starved Pakistan which, in need of a USD 33 billion bailout, is lobbying feverishly with the IMF.
“We are not witnessing the first campaign launched by the PTI against the Pakistan Army and surely not the last one, Tariq Aqil writes in The Friday Times (August 26, 2023), warning that “We are not witnessing the first campaign launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against Pakistan Army and surely not the last one.”
PTI unveiled 1,000 billboards across the US that carry messages such as “Custodial torture – a disgrace to humanity”, “Forced disappearances of political workers” and “Death of democracy”. Ironically, Khan, as well as his army-backed predecessors, have been accused of these.
Aquil writes of “a series of interviews” of Khan by lobbying groups “for putting pressure on – or at least creating a justification – for the US Department of State, the Congress and the Biden Administration to talk about Khan’s situation in Pakistan and to raise more funds for families of arrested persons – as well as for further advertisement in Europe and North America targeting the Pakistan Army.”
“PTI is also working to arrange money for visits of foreign journalists to Pakistan, who then would produce reports in favour of Imran Khan. The party has very successfully managed to recruit an army of social media warriors and launched a vicious campaign against the military. In fact, social media experts in the US and the UK are now waging a relentless media war against the Pakistani military and all those who dare to oppose Imran Khan in Pakistan.”
Well beyond the reach of the Pakistan Government or even Khan, “the social media soldiers of the PTI are more loyal to the throne than the king himself.”
A prominent campaigner in the US, Sajjad Burki claimed that they have the support of 86 US Congressmen who may lobby for a resolution and a debate condemning the Pakistan government, and this is worrying the latter. For Islamabad, this is unprecedented coming from the diasporas.