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‘Post-Imran Project’ is a marathon, no early exit from jail likely for ex-PM

Crucial cipher case against Imran Khan under draconian Official Secrets Act will commence within the Attock jail where he is lodged.

The suspension of sentencing of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran in the Toshakhana case is no indication that the military’s plans set for him will change. The “post-Imran” project is well in place and the litany of legal cases against Khan, starting with losing cipher under Officials Secret Act, will ensure that Khan either lose the match of nerves or hit wicket himself.

Unlike some perception, the Tuesday’s suspension ordered by the Islamabad high court, following cue of Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial-led Supreme Court bench declaring faults in lower court’s Toshakhana verdict, the conviction and disqualification of Imran remain intact. He will face a full IHC trial.

Khan’s suspension in the misdeclaration of assets case does not mean his conviction has been overturned, which is pending a detailed hearing in the court, according to constitutional lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferi.

“(Khan) being left at liberty is now hindered by him being required by the police and relevant investigation agencies in the multitude of other cases instituted against him,” Jaferii said.

Meanwhile, Bandial, who has been seen as a judicial shield for Khan, will retire on September 16, expectedly making way for judges – both in high courts and SC – to decide on cases involving Khan and his party workers with firmness.

Khan even though the most popular leader in the country is rarely mentioned with his name in media headlines. Since May 9, when his party vandals set military installations on fire in violent protests, he is referred to as merely PTI chairman.

Reverse Swing of Fate

Ever since Khan lost a dramatic midnight no-confidence vote in Parliament in mid-2022, he has alleged “US conspiracy” for his ouster.

He blamed then Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa as kingpin to dislodge him at US’ behest because he had made a trip to Moscow at the onset of the Ukraine war and didn’t take a pro-West policy posture.

Later, in order to solidify his charges, he revealed details of a diplomatic “cipher” – or a secret cable – that suggests the US administration wanted to remove him from power and that the no-confidence motion in Parliament was orchestrated as part of that plot.

The purported cipher was a conversation between Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, and Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, on March 7 last year. The portal The Intercept recently published the content of it. The conversation, according to the report, took place less than two weeks after Khan visited Moscow on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

In his enthusiasm, Khan even flaunted the transcript of the cable during a public rally. His effrontery however has now backfired. He has been booked under draconian Officials Secret Act for revealing, and later, losing that ‘cipher’.

According to Tania Bazai, a lawyer at the Islamabad High Court, Khan could face up to 14 years in prison if he is convicted in the cipher case.

Meanwhile, his haughtiness unleashed a chain of events that led to a number of cases against him and his close confidantes. Unable to row the boat with him, bigwigs like Aleem Khan and Jehangir Tareen, jumped the ship and floated their own splinter group of PTI.

Post-May 9 mayhem, his party crumbled. Ministerial faces of his party like Shireen Mazari, Pervez Khattak and Fawad Chaudhry quit in quick succession. Khatak now runs his own party and is a fiery critic of Khan.

Besides, sleazy details of his personal and family life have continued to be unearthed periodically. Many serious commentators of Pakistan have also stopped giving him benefit of doubt and term him a failed hero.

Noose on Big Guns

After May 9 vandalism by Khan’s supporters, the Army made it clear that it would dismantle Khan and his party, come what may. There seems to be no Plan B except seeing him in jail or exiled. Another Punjab stalwart who is suffering the same fate is Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who like Khan, refused to budge to the establishment – the PML-N and military combo, despite enticement and offers. He has been booked in corruption cases for receiving kickbacks for awarding favourable parties during his term as Punjab governor.

In the last two months, Elahi has been awarded bail in some cases, but he is rearrested even from court premises. According to the PTI party, there has been immense pressure on Elahi from the military establishment to quit the party, and on his refusal, he is re-arrested after securing bail.

This is the same pattern, according to Pakistan watchers, that will be witnessed in the case of Imran whose kitty of cases is so heavy and diverse that he will also have to travel to various Pakistani jails and courts from time to time.

Another big fish that has been netted is former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who has been accused in the cipher case. He, however, is not known for his integral position and as journalist Haroon Rasheed says “his ancestors surrendered before the British, he will yield before the Army.”But if that happens, Qureshi’s testimony in the cipher case will mean that Imran will have a long innings in jail.