Thursday June 20, 2024

Imran’s arrest

By Editorial Board
May 10, 2023

Dramatic scenes unfolded on TV screens yesterday as the nation saw yet another prime minister being arrested. In the 2023 iteration of an eerily familiar tale for Pakistan’s politics, the PTI’s chairman and Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan was unceremoniously taken into custody by the paramilitary force of the Rangers right from within the Islamabad High Court. Subsequent details revealed that Imran Khan has been arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case – ostensibly for embezzling Rs60 billion. The Rangers are said to have been acting on the directions of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that had issued Imran’s arrest warrants on May 1 for corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. What exactly is the Al-Qadir Trust case? The case essentially involves Imran Khan, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and other PTI leaders, who are all facing a NAB inquiry related to a settlement between the PTI government and a property tycoon, which reportedly caused a loss of GBP190 million to the national exchequer. As per the charges, Imran and other accused allegedly adjusted Rs50 billion – GBP190 million at the time – sent by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) to the government. They are also accused of getting undue benefit in the form of over 458 kanals of land at Mouza Bakrala, Sohawa, to establish the ‘Al Qadir University’. While Tuesday’s arrest has naturally been condemned by both the PTI as well as human rights defenders who say this may have been an over-the-top approach to the arrest (they don't dispute the case, more the way he was arrested), government officials say they have a super strong case.

Per political and legal minds, the Al-Qadir Trust case may indeed have strong merits. It is quite surprising that a Rs60 billion settlement from a foreign country – in this case the United Kingdom – of illegal money was given back to the accused and used to settle his court case. Questions of whether Imran should have been arrested or not have been answered by NAB which says that he was not cooperating in the investigation and thus had to be arrested. The IHC has declared the arrest from within the IHC premises as legal, and by most accounts Imran will be presented before an accountability court today. This corruption scandal is one of the biggest scandals in recent history. That Imran Khan, known for accusing his opponents of corruption, gave blanket permission for this money to be used for a court settlement in Pakistan when the money belonged to the national exchequer should be a damning indictment. But saner minds wonder if the hamfisted way he was arrested will end up making his case or the government’s.

Tuesday’s unfortunate political drama unfolding on TV screens also ended in a social media blackout in some areas, protests in major cities, and in some cases violent protests in some areas. While PTI leaders have distanced themselves from what ensued on the streets and in various landmarks in cities, they may find it tough to walk back some of their own statements. Observers fear that there may be consequences in Tuesday’s happenings for both the PTI and Pakistan’s democratic setup in the long term. Imran Khan is a popular leader but this is not the first time in Pakistan’s history that a popular leader has been arrested. Some would say what the PTI does next could well determine Pakistan’s politics. But more astute students of history may say that in the real Pakistan, the game may now be out of political hands.