by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 7, Safar, 1445)
If there is one lesson that history teaches, it is that very few learn from it. And if any lessons are drawn at all, they are invariably the wrong ones.
This is what is happening in Pakistan since Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister on April 9, 2022. He is currently incarcerated in Attock Jail, 80 kms from Islamabad, in a stinking cell serving a three-year sentence. The verdict against him bordered on the scandalous and failed to meet even the minimum standards of justice.
While he is not the first former prime minister to be subjected to such mistreatment and humiliation, there is absolutely no comparison between Imran Khan and his predecessors. He appears like an angel compared to those that preceded him, especially relating to honesty and integrity.
Further, his predecessors had little support among the masses. This became evident when they were ousted from power. People distributed sweets to celebrate their removal. Imran Khan, on the other hand, enjoys huge popular support. Despite his removal from power, at least 70 – 80 percent of the people support him.
This is what terrifies the army high command, especially the army chief Asim Munir, the real power wielder in Pakistan and mastermind behind the ongoing sordid affair. If Imran Khan returns to power, he has vowed to go after the crooks and criminals and put them on trial to face justice.
Let us consider some recent developments that shed light on how Pakistan is being pushed to the brink. The economy has collapsed. Prices have skyrocketed making life miserable for ordinary people. Fed up with rising prices, many people have vowed not to pay their electricity bills. Poverty has increased exponentially. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy and social divisions have deepened.
Imran Khan was sentenced to a three-year jail term on August 5 in a totally bogus case. The District and Sessions Court Judge, Humayun Dilawar, violated every tenet of the law in handing down the sentence. He refused to give time for defence lawyers to produce witnesses. Nor did he allow those who had accused the former prime minister to be brought to court for cross-examination.
As soon as the judge delivered the verdict, he fled the country. The ostensible reason was that he was to attend a course on human rights at the University of Hull in Britain. Observers did not miss the irony: violating the basic rights of the accused and then rushing to attend a course on human rights!
Every legal expert in Pakistan has said that the judge’s conduct was in clear violation of the law. Imran Khan was sent to Attock Jail and lodged in a cell measuring 9ft x 9ft lacking the most basic amenities afforded to other prisoners.
He was given a filthy mattress to sleep on the floor. There is an open toilet in one corner of the cell with no washing facilities or shower. Such cells are reserved for prisoners on death row, not former prime ministers.
His lawyers, party leaders and family members have been barred from meeting him despite clear orders from the high court. Even when permission is granted, it is deliberately delayed. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court have deliberately delayed Imran Khan’s appeal, forcing him to spend several weeks in jail.
Some defence lawyers have been threatened. One of his lawyers, Sher Afzal Khan Marwat’s brother-in-law was murdered. This was clearly a warning to Marwat to scare him away from defending the former prime minister. Others are also being hounded by the intelligence agencies.
Imran Khan’s widespread support among the masses irks the army, especially the army chief who nurses a personal grudge against him. Asim Munir was removed as head of the powerful intelligence agency, ISI, when Imran Khan was prime minister.
There is a foreign dimension as well: that of the overbearing US. Imran Khan’s ouster was engineered through a no-confidence vote in parliament. Pakistan’s real power wielders—the army—who receive instructions from the US, orchestrated this diabolical plot. This has now been confirmed—even for the doubting Thomases—through the cipher published by the Intercept on August 9, 2023.
In prison, the former prime minister is prohibited from getting home-made meals. This has raised grave concerns about the possibility that his food might be poisoned. Slow-acting chemicals administered in food cannot be detected even through medical tests and may result in his death. This is not speculation. It has happened with others in the past.
What is Imran Khan’s ‘crime’ for which he has been sent to jail and subjected to such humiliation? The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) accused him of not ‘properly declaring’ a gift watch that he had sold. This needs clarification.
Any gifts received by government officials on state visits abroad have to be deposited in the Toshakhana (government repository). The official is entitled to buy that gift back by paying 50 percent of its value. The 50 percent price was introduced when Imran Khan became the prime minister. Before that it was only 15 percent and was raised to 20 percent in 2008.
He/she can then sell that gift to whomever they wish. The profit made from the sale of the gift has to be declared in one’s tax forms.
This is what Imran Khan did when his accountants prepared his accounts and submitted them to the Pakistan Revenue Board. The ECP alleges that the form Khan submitted to it (ECP) did not say this money was from the sale of the gift. There is no provision in the ECP form that requires such information. Despite repeated requests to allow his accountants to appear in court to explain their accounting procedures, these were denied.
Further, all former prime ministers and presidents have sold many more gifts received from abroad but they have not been hauled before any court of law. For instance, Nawaz Sharif sold 11 watches gifted to him. He even took a Mercedes car, as did Asif Ali Zardari, without declaring a cent in their income. It was illegal to get cars from the Toshakhana at the time (1999) when they took them. A special amendment in the law enacted in 2008 ‘legalized’ Sharif’s taking the car.
The list goes on.
Imran Khan is facing nearly 200 cases against him. All of them are bogus. A person who had no cases in 70 years of his life is suddenly accused of committing 200 crimes. The reason is obvious. He is being trapped in these cases in order to exhaust him running from one court to the next. This, it is assumed, will force him to abandon politics and leave the country.
So far, Imran Khan has stood his ground but at enormous cost to himself and his family. His demand is for free and fair elections within the stipulated 90 days as per the constitution. This appears unlikely.
The reason is that the army that ousted him from power at the orders of the US will not allow him to come back to power. If free and fair elections are held, Imran Khan will return to power with an overwhelming majority.
While a caretaker prime minister, Anwarul Haq Kakar was sworn in on August 14, he has given no indication that he will honour the constitutional provision to hold elections within 90 days. In fact, the idea of elections next February has already been floated. Even when the president, Arif Alvi, the highest authority in the land, invited the chief election commissioner, Sikandar Sultan Raja, for a meeting to fix the date for elections, the latter, a lowly official, refused!
Most observers believe that there will be no elections in Pakistan in the next two to three years. This time period is needed, according to these observers, for the military to ‘stabilize’ the economy. How will they achieve this herculean task?
Pakistani ports, airports, mines and such state-owned enterprises as Pakistan International Airlines and Steel Mill have been leased or are up for sale. It is hoped that enough foreign cash will flow into the country to stabilize the economy. The army has also taken over hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land to grow food.
Unable to perform its primary task of defending the country’s borders, the army wants to go into agriculture. If that is what it wants to do, then there is no need for a standing army of 680,000 troops at enormous cost to the exchequer.
But its primary task, assigned by the US is to keep Imran Khan from becoming the prime minister. He is too independent-minded for America’s liking. Does one need any more proof that Pakistan is a slave of the US?