Over the weekend, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan alleged to CNN that the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance “was aligned with the Army and was dismantling the democratic system to keep me out.” Claiming over 10,000 PTI workers had been arrested, including the party’s entire senior leadership, he suggested the arson and vandalism of the May 9 riots was being used as a “pretext” to undo the party. According to Khan, hundreds of women and children have been jailed and the next step was to prosecute the accused in military courts. Ironically, he then went on to claim he had a good relationship with the Army and would be amenable to working with it again.
The PTI chief is convinced he is facing another arrest, especially in the wake of his refusal to accept any responsibility for the May 9 riots, which he alternately blames on “agencies men” or “PDM conspirators.” The military rank-and-file, once inclined to support him, also appear to have turned their backs, unwilling to tolerate attacks on their buildings and institutions in what the Army has described as a “black day” for Pakistan. Apart from Khan’s soft corner for the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—which is once more in the military’s crosshairs—the former prime minister’s rhetoric is widely perceived as anti-Army, unlike in the past when he was a vociferous supporter. Amidst an ongoing economic crunch, Khan’s tilt toward the U.S. he once accused of his ouster is also seen as a further severing of ties with China, which Pakistan can ill-afford if it wishes to avail the benefits offered by the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Khan’s fall from grace has been as dramatic as his rise. After months of public addresses and media interactions in which he—sometimes implicitly; often explicitly—accused the Army leadership of seeking to eliminate him from politics, the military’s media wing hit back with a predictably stern response, promoting further backlash from Khan. The back-and-forth has played out amidst clashes between various institutions—executive and parliament vs. the higher judiciary; government vs. the president; Election Commission vs. the Supreme Court—with each side accusing the other of overstepping its constitutional authority.
Clearly, Imran Khan is not solely to blame for making Pakistan vulnerable to internal instability, with all institutions playing their role, especially the judiciary. Unfortunately, at a time when Pakistan most needs unity to tackle multiple ongoing crises, public opinion is more divided than ever. The only solution is stability, but achieving that so long as Khan continues to favor dialogue with the military over his political rivals seems little more than a fantasy.