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Has the embattled Pakistani Army gained an upper hand against Imran Khan?

Pakistan's youth most impacted by economic and political crises (Photo: Twitter)

The rather laconic Pakistani Army has, in a press statement in Urdu, described the violence of May 9, 2023 that followed former prime minister Imran Khan’s arrest as a “dark chapter”. It also warned: “We will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands”.

In a warning to Khan’s supporters, the army said that the facilitators, planners, and political activists involved in the protests have been identified and strict action will be taken against them. It added that Khan’s supporters who have tried “to push Pakistan into a civil war” will now be met with severe retaliation.

In its response to the “black chapter in history”, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) denied its cadres were involved in the violence. Hitting back at the army, it said that the statement by the ISPR lacked understanding of the ground situation. Blaming poor governance for the public reaction, the PTI said that the arrest of Imran Khan is connected to… extra-judicial actions and destruction of the economy that created bitterness.

Imran Khan was arrested from the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday afternoon, spiralling unprecedented mob attacks against army installations across the nation. Though he had been arrested in a high-handed manner by Pakistan’s paramilitary forces, his supporters targeted the all-powerful army, which is under unprecedented pressure from Baloch rebels in the south-west and Pakistani Taliban militants in the north-west.

A stung Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that the way the army was targeted after Khan’s arrest, it looked like a “well-thought-out plan… Soon after, there were organised attacks on army properties and installations and anti-army slogans were raised”, the ISPR said.

This was the second statement by the army, an unusual practice in itself, targeting former prime minister Khan in just three days that unravelled unprecedented events in Pakistan’s history. Notably it was just one day after the army’s warning to Khan that he was arbitrarily arrested.

Hitting out at Khan’s party leaders, the Pakistani military public relations wing said: “these evil elements vigorously stir up public sentiments to fulfil their narrow and selfish goals and on the other, they do not get tired of highlighting the importance of the army for the country while throwing dust in the eyes of the people. This is an example of hypocrisy”.

The army said that in their lust for power, this political group has done what enemies could not do in 75 years, adding that, “The army showed extreme patience, tolerance and restraint and without caring about its own reputation worked with extreme patience and endurance in the wider interest of the country.”

Patting itself on the back, the army said that though a situation had been created to provoke it, the army through a mature response thwarted this conspiracy. “We are well aware that behind it were orders, directives and complete pre-planning by some sinister party leadership”, the ISPR said.

Some of Khan’s party members may find themseslves in bigger soup as leaked audio recordings allegedly prove that the PTI Tiger Force members were instructed by senior party members to attack key military installations and provoke a civil war in the country. Leaders Dr Yasmin Rashid and PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhry have been recorded giving instructions to workers to attack the Corps Commander’s House in Lahore.

Futile attempts had been made earlier to arrest Khan from his Lahore residence. Those were thwarted by an ever-vigilant Khan, who roused his supporters to march to Lahore and fight back the army and the “imported-government” of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan, who had been ousted from power in April 2022, has waged a relentless campaign against the establishment and the Shehbaz government.

The former cricket captain who enjoys mass appeal, has been able to bring out his supporters on the streets not just in Pakistani cities but also in the UK, the USA and Canada.

He has been sent on an eight-day physical remand by the NAB under corruption charges. His former colleagues – Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Falknaz Chitrali, Musrat Jamsheed Cheema and Malika Bukhari have been arrested, even as many leaders are rumoured to have gone underground.

Also read: London, New York bear brunt of Imran Khan’s arrest as frenzied supporters pour into streets