Imran Khan has become more alienated recently. After a brief but explosive effort to arrest Pakistan’s former prime minister last month, his return has been accompanied by a major departure of his party’s senior leadership, surprising even his enemies.
The former chief minister and defense minister Pervez Khattak resigned from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) late Thursday night. He follows Khan’s former finance minister, human rights minister, information minister, and shipping minister, who all quit PTI in recent weeks. Dozens of federal and state ministers followed suit.
Most non-defectors are imprisoned. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, PTI’s president, was detained by anti-terrorism police at his Lahore house on Thursday night. After his May arrest, Khan’s former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, many other ministers, and thousands Pakistani PTI members remain in prison.
Analysts agree the arrests and resignations are orchestrated. Khan has fought the military leadership since his departure from office. He accused them of assassinating him and orchestrating his May arrest, which was overturned by the courts.
After disappearances and torture, allies abandon previous prime minister.
Analysts and PTI members claim the army chief is aiming to dismantle Khan’s party before arresting and prosecuting him in a military court. Khan is unlikely to run in Pakistan’s October election.
“This dramatic crackdown is a clear strategy by the military to break down all the support structures that Khan has,” said Soas University of London assistant professor in international politics Avinash Paliwal. Khan follows when those constructions are gone.
Despite Khan’s assertions that this is a “crackdown never seen before in Pakistan’s history,” Paliwal claimed it was a continuation of the military’s pattern that has hampered democracy since 1958.
Since then, the military has ruled Pakistan either directly or indirectly. Military crackdowns and arrests have affected all major political parties. Before Khan, Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party were overthrown by the military in 2017 and imprisoned for corruption.
“This is no anomaly, it is something that the military does occasionally whenever it feels that it needs to tame a civilian political outlet which is getting too big for its boots,” Paliwal added. “Only the military rules the country.”
The military has tried other prime ministers. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister, was overthrown in a military coup in 1977, tried under martial rule, and executed.
Senior PTI officials and others have faced severe pressures. One top PTI leader who was detained in May and resigned recalled being turned over by police to the notorious military agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
“They used multiple methods to pressure me to leave the party, but one of the worst was torture,” he claimed, asking anonymity for fear of the military. “They tied my feet and hung me upside down. They kicked and punched me.
They phoned my family and threatened to take my children and family if I didn’t leave the party. Relief was offered if I quit PTI. I had no choice.”
Even lower-ranking party members claimed military pressure, with several accused of participating in violent rioting and rallies on 9 May after Khan’s arrest. Violence targeted military homes and offices.
Since then, the military and administration have called it a “black day” for Pakistan and threatened to bring the whole might of the state down on anyone involved, accusing Khan of being the mastermind. Thousands of party members and supporters have been arrested and charged with terrorism, with some facing military trials.
Human rights groups fear the military is intimidating PTI supporters and opponents with disappearances.
After police raided their residences and harassed them, the brother of a PTI youth wing leader revealed his family had been in hiding since 9 May. As a result, he was separated from his wife and newborn for over a month.
“Why are they harassing me or my parents just because my brother is in PTI leadership?” he said. “We have received indirect messages to ‘quit PTI if you don’t want this situation’. I’ve never seen a worse political situation.”
Since 11 May, pro-PTI journalist Imran Riaz Khan is missing. Murad Akbar, the brother of former Imran Khan adviser Mirza Shahzad Akbar, was taken from the family home on Sunday and has not been seen since. The police deny knowing his location.
“We all know who is responsible,” claimed Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a former PTI office bearer in the UK who is charged in one of Khan’s corruption cases. My brother isn’t political. Abducting my brother pressures me.”
According to his wife, famous lawyer and rights campaigner Jibran Nasir, a vocal military critic, was kidnapped in Karachi on Thursday night.