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Why Imran Khan’s arrest may only be the beginning of his troubles

Pakistan's ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan has been arrested after conviction in the Toshakana case

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest on Saturday following  a lower court verdict in the Toshakana case is a pivotal moment, tipping the scales in favour of the Pakistani military and the ruling coalition, which intends to sideline the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) from political contention ahead of elections.

The Islamabad sessions court has convicted Khan in the Toshakhana case and jailed him for three years.  PTI leaders have said they would appeal against the judgement delivered by Additional District and Sessions Judge Humayun Dilawar.

The Pakistani judiciary got involved in the Toshakhana case, after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)  disqualified  Khan, accusing him of making “false statements and incorrect declaration.”

In fact, the ECP moved the sessions court in Islamabad, seeking criminal proceedings against the PTI chief, alleging that he had misled the elections watchdog  regarding gifts received from foreign dignitaries while he was in office. In turn the  trial court indicted the PTI chairman on May 10 and rejected his plea that the case was inadmissible.

So, what is the Toshakhana case all about?

The ex-Prime Minister got into trouble over selling some of the expensive gifts that he had received from foreign government in his capacity as Prime Minister. Though top national leaders are allowed to buy foreign gifts from the state coffers, Khan had apparently purchased these gifts for himself at highly discounted value from the state treasury and sold them at market prices, thus personally pocketing a tidy profit.

Khan has been accused of selling an expensive Graff wristwatch worth at least Rs2 billion, to Dubai-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor. Khan was  gifted the watch by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

According to Pakistani daily New International, Zahoor, the Norwegian-Pakistani millionaire, claims that he can prove that he bought the rare watch and three other Toshakhana gifts from Farhat Shahzadi — also known as Farah Gogi. Gogi, in turn is a close friend of Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi. Zahoor claims that he paid 7.5 million Dirhams in cash and the deal was facilitated by former federal minister Shahzad Akbar.

In an affidavit, Zahoor claims that the gifts included a Diamond MasterGraff Tourbillon Minute Repeater with Makkah Map Dial GM2751, Diamond Cufflinks with 2.12ct H IF and 2.11ct I IF Round Diamonds GR46899, Diamond Gent’s Ring 7.20cts, VVSl Rose Gold Pen Set with Pave Diamonds and Enamel Mecca Map.

Khan has not denied his involvement in the Toshakhana affairs but has pinned the blame of  any wrongdoing on his military secretary Brigadier Waseem Cheema.

Recording his statement in the Toshakhana case before the sessions court on Tuesday, Khan said that Brigadier Waseem Cheema was an important and relevant character in this whole episode. “I request the court to call him to record his statement in the case,” he said, pleading innocence in the case.

In his judgement today, ADSJ Humayun Dilawar announced the verdict, stating that the PTI chief has been found guilty of corrupt practices before reading out the sentence. Incidentally no representative of the PTI chairman appeared before him at the hearing, which was adjourned several times.

Khan and the PTI are expected to challenge the verdict in higher court, implying that the ex-Prime Minister’s disqualification based on the Toshakana case may not be final. In a recorded video message, Khan has said that he had anticipated his arrest.

It is important to note that there is a bigger context to today’s ruling. The military led by Army Chief Asim Munir and the coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif have gone after Khan after the May 9 attacks on military symbols and installations including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and Jinnah House, the corps commander’s residence. Khan is a prime suspect in conceiving the plot, an accusation that he hotly denies.

In the crackdown that followed, the PTI has splintered and many senior leaders have jumped ship. The establishment has got further emboldened after the Sharif government managed to secure the IMF deal which has saved the government from payment default. Sensing that the scales maybe slowly tilting in their favour  the coalition leadership has been meeting in Dubai and at home, amid prospects of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s early return to Pakistan ahead of elections.

Even though he may get some relief from today’s judgement in a higher court, Khan’s woes are only expected to multiply. The ex-Prime Minister’s appearance in a military court for his role in the May 9 riots cannot be ruled out.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Umar Ata Bandial, who has so far walled Khan’s arrest has  been showing signs that he might not be entirely opposed to the ex-PM’s military trial.

Last month , a six-member bench of the apex court, headed by CJP Bandial heard petitions challenging the trial of civilians accused of the May 09 attacks, in the military courts under the Army Act 1952. His observations to the petitions were interesting.

During proceedings, the CJP asked the attorney general Mansoor Awan if the suspects of May 9 will be allowed the right to appeal in civilian court against their convictions, presumably by the military courts. “You will have to satisfy the court that after the trial of suspects in the May 9 incidents, the accused persons will have fair opportunity of right of appeal against their conviction and will be ensured fair trial,” he told the AG as quoted by Pakistani daily News International.

The via media suggested by the CJP Bandial who retires in September, and which the army is likely to endorse, opens the door for Khan being, at least initially, tried in a military court.

Khan can also face the music over the so-called Cypher case.

Khan’s former Principal secretary Azam Khan has revealed details of how the ex-Prime Minister illegally used the secret cable from the United States for his personal political gains.

In his confessional statement recorded last month before a magistrate under CrPC 164, asserted that the “cypher drama” was a premeditated conspiracy hatched by the ex-Prime Minister.

Ahead of his ouster in a no-confidence motion, Khan had alleged on March 27, 2022, during a rally of PTI workers that Washington had orchestrated the movement to remove him from office. To establish his point Khan had brandished the cypher that he had received in March from his ambassador in the US.

Khan later asserted that the cable had originated in the United States, and the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal. The cable followed a meeting between former Pak ambassador to the US Asad Majeed’s and Lu.

By mishandling the cypher issue, Khan could be charged under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923. If proved in the court of law, he can be imprisoned from two to 14 years, and would not  be necessarily immune to a death penalty.

Also Read: Why a military-backed caretaker government could seal Imran Khan’s fate in Pakistan