ollowing his conviction in the Tausha Khana case, former prime minister Imran Khan has not only been put behind bars, but also disqualified from contesting elections for National and Provincial Assemblies.
On August 5, a local court had sentenced Khan to three years imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 100,000 over a complaint filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan for his failure to declare proceeds from the sale of Tausha Khana gifts in his assets. The court found him guilty of “corrupt practices.” “He [Imran] cheated while providing information on gifts he obtained from Tausha Khana which later proved to be false and inaccurate. His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt,” the verdict read. The same day, Khan was arrested by the Punjab Police from his Zaman Park residence in Lahore and taken to Attock Jail.
Later, the ECP disqualified Khan for five years under Article 63(1)(h) and de-notified him as a returned candidate from NA-45 Kurram-I. The ECP, in its order, said that as a consequence of his conviction, Imran Khan had been disqualified also under Section 232 of the Elections Act, 2017.
“Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi has become disqualified under Article 63(1)(h) of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan read with Section 232 of the Elections Act, 2017,” the notification says. It also says, “Therefore, Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi is disqualified for a period of five years and is also de-notified as a retuned candidate from NA constituency 45, Kurram-I.”
Khan’s conviction, incarceration and disqualification have raised several questions: where does Khan popularity stand now; what will be his political future; and what will happen to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf?
While there are no straightforward answers to these questions, one thing is clear: for his political survival he will have to reconcile with the political forces as well as the establishment.
Before Khan’s arrest, this scribe met him on August 3 at his Zaman Park residence. Several journalists working for the international media were also present. Surprisingly, some correspondents belonging to notable wire services and international broadcasters, who usually covered Khan’s movements, were absent despite having been invited. Khan, clad in a grey shalwar kamees, a matching waistcoat and wearing grey sneakers, entered the room with his trademark confidence. Though he was calm, his body language indicated that he understood that soon he would soon be convicted and arrested.
During the question-answer session, this scribe recalled that he had joined the anti-Musharraf Movement from the platform of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and delivered several speeches from the same truck as Pakistan Peoples Party leaders such as the late Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders such as Raja Zafar-ul Haq and signed a declaration with Nawaz Sharif announcing a boycott of the elections called in 2007. The question was: “You have already worked with the two parties. Would you consider doing it again for the sake of democracy?”
Khan responded: “Yes, I did join them in the struggle against Gen Musharraf. However, when they came to power, they plundered the country and sought selfish relief in the name of national reconciliation. If they come to power again, they will do the same.”
Khan’s supporters are anxious to know when and how he will come out of jail. Securing his release on bail in the Tausha Khana case might not be too tough but he also faces dozens of other cases. So far, he had been evading arrest by securing protective bail. However, the legal outlook for him is now looking grim at best.
Interestingly, the PTI media wing released a video message after Khan’s arrest, recorded probably the night before he was apprehended from Zaman Park. In his message, Khan stated: “I urge Pakistan Army and all political forces to think about Pakistan.”
Khan is currently lodged at Attock Jail. His lawyers are trying to secure bail for him. In his prison cell, the PTI chief will have the opportunity for quiet reflection. He might change his mind and start seriously considering national reconciliation.
His supporters are anxious to know when and how will he come out of the jail. Securing his release on bail in the Tausha Khana case may not be too tough, but he faces dozens of other cases. So far, he had been evading arrest thanks to protective bails. However, now the legal outlook for him is looking grim at best.
Some of his lawyers are also not very hopeful. Intezar Hussain Panjutha, a member of Khan’s legal team told The News on Sunday, “We have filed an appeal against court’s verdict and also requested the Islamabad High Court to suspend the sentence till it decides our appeal.”
“Usually, courts suspend sentences during the hearing of an appeal. Khan is also facing various cases for which the courts have granted him bail. If he not produced before these courts regularly, the bails will be cancelled. Therefore, his immediate release is difficult.”
The PTI team will also challenge the ECP notification about Khan’s disqualification. However, removing the disqualification cap will be tough and Khan might end up getting convicted in more cases. This means that the chances of his participation in the elections are slim unless a superior court passes an unusual order about his disqualification.
Given the situation, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto’s statement in the National Assembly should be a ray of hope for them. “It seems that our elders have decided that they want us to suffer the way they did in their long political careers.”
He stressed the need for dialogue among all political parties and state institutions either to devise a new charter of democracy or adhere to the one signed in London in May 2006.
The PTI supporters were unable to hold significant protests demonstrations following their chairman’s arrest. However, this does not mean that the PTI has lost all support. The PTI stalwarts have changed their strategy and are anxiously waiting for the elections to show their strength through the vote. After Khan’s arrest, the PTI defeated the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government by-elections in Mathra, Havelian and Abbottabad.
During his August 3 interaction with journalists, Khan had also said, “The PTI has won the elections. They will delay the polls but whenever they go for it, the PTI will emerge as the single largest party.” The PTI chairman might have appeared over-confidant, considering that he is the only person in the party capable of motivating the workers and voters. Now that he is in jail and unable to run the party’s affairs directly, it will certainly demotivate some of the party workers. He has constituted a core committee to communicate with him through his lawyers. Nevertheless, this means there will always be a communication gap between the chairman and the party workers. This will also impact the party’s performance, selection of candidates and campaign in a negative way.
Despite these challenges, the PTI is still a political force to reckon with. It will show its strength in the elections.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher ofjournalism, writer and analyst.He tweets at BukhariMubasher