Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest last week triggered mass demonstrations, many of which turned violent, resulting in at least 8 deaths and significant damage to public and private property, including the Lahore Corps Commander’s house that was once a residence of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. While the PTI has subsequently sought to distance itself from the rioting, some leaked audio clips allege the party’s local leadership either led or approved of the violence. The protests ended only after the Supreme Court came to Khan’s rescue, declaring his arrest “illegal,” leaving questions over the civilian administration’s failure to enforce its writ and prevent the unrest.
As the chaos unfolded, the provincial governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab—as well as the federal capital—requisitioned the deployment of the armed forces in aid of civil power, leaving little to the imagination about the utter inability of P.M. Shehbaz Sharif to maintain control of the situation. Khan’s release, on the orders of a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, further raised questions over the judiciary’s bias when it comes to Khan and the PTI.
The unfolding situation in Pakistan has left observers in despair about the state’s ability to tackle political and economic crises. There is no doubt that the ruling coalition that came to power in April 2022 has failed to tackle crises spanning the political, economic and security spheres, even as the threat of default continues to loom large with the suspension of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program since November 2022. Tragically, “most popular” leader Imran Khan—perhaps admired more by the CJP than even his supporters on the roads—is clearly not too concerned about the economy, focusing all his efforts on securing an election that he believes will see his return to power to confront the prevailing crises, including rising militancy. As for general elections, it is now virtually impossible for them to be conducted this month, with October appearing the increasingly likely date for polls. Whether or not the battered ruling coalition can use this time to make a dent in Khan’s popularity remains to be seen.