Home Analysis How will Imran Khan’s legal woes impact Pakistan’s elections?

How will Imran Khan’s legal woes impact Pakistan’s elections?

How will Imran Khan’s legal woes impact Pakistan’s elections?

Incarcerated former prime minister was convicted in two cases in 24 hours this week

Aamir Latif 

Karachi, Sindh

As Pakistan gears up for a crucial national vote next week, the one thing dominating local headlines is the fate of Imran Khan.

The incarcerated former prime minister was convicted in two separate cases within the span of 24 hours, getting a 10-year jail sentence in the first and 14 years in the second.

Given Khan’s political standing, experts reckon the developments will damage the credibility of the Feb. 8 elections, while the Pakistani caretaker government contends that the issue is simply a legal one that has nothing to with the vote.

On Tuesday, Khan and former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were sentenced to 10 years in jail by a special court in what local media has dubbed the “cipher case,” which is related to diplomatic communications between the US and Pakistan that Khan was part of a Washington-backed conspiracy to topple his government in mid-2022.

The next day, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were given 14 years in prison in a case related to illegally buying and selling state gifts.

Both trials were held in a jail in the northeastern garrison city of Rawalpindi, where the former prime minister has been kept for the past several months.

Khan’s supporters and leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have criticized the “unfair” sentences, terming them a “destruction of justice.”

The prosecution, nonetheless, said the ex-prime minister was given “due process of law,” accusing him of resorting to “delaying tactics by repeatedly changing his lawyers.”

In the cipher case, the court said Khan and Qureshi violated their oaths as prime minister and foreign minister, damaging Pakistan-US relations.

It said the negligence in handling the matter adversely affected relations with other countries, ultimately benefiting hostile nations.

Murtaza Solangi, the caretaker information minister, told Anadolu that the sentences handed down have nothing to do with the current government or the looming elections.

“Neither were these cases initiated by the caretaker government nor do we have control over the courts,” he said.

“Any aggrieved party has superior courts and free media available for redressal of their grievances,” he maintained.

‘Nothing has changed’

Sajjad Mir, a political commentator in Lahore, fears the “unwelcome” developments will “have a deep impact on Pakistan’s already polarized politics.”

“Not only in the context of the upcoming elections, but onwards as well,” he told Anadolu.

He said questions over the credibility of elections in Pakistan are “nothing new.”

“Imran Khan’s opponents didn’t accept his victory in the 2018 elections on the same grounds that the PTI is facing today,” he said.

Wusatullah Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, said Khan’s legal problems will “further damage” the credibility of next week’s elections, adding that the national vote is already under a dark cloud of allegations.

The PTI alleges it is being treated unfairly and its candidates, who are contesting as independents, are being harassed and facing arrests.

The party has also lost its electoral symbol, a cricket bat, an ode to Khan’s past achievements as the World Cup-winning captain of the national side.

Hundreds of party workers and leaders are in jail following violent protests and attacks on military installations after Khan’s brief arrest in a corruption case in the capital Islamabad last May.

“This shows nothing has changed. This is almost a repeat telecast of 2018 elections, and only the characters have changed,” Wusatullah told Anadolu.

He was referring to the conviction and disqualification of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif just before the 2018 elections.

“In 2018, Imran Khan was the favorite and Sharif was a persona non grata. In 2024, it’s totally the opposite,” he added.

Latest surveys show Sharif and Khan are in a neck-and-neck race, with the latter holding a slight edge.

However, in bellwether Punjab, the country’s most populous and richest province, Sharif has a slender lead over his arch-rival.

In Mir’s view, the jail terms given to Khan will have “both negative and positive” impacts on the PTI.

“Positive in a way that it will increase public sympathy for Khan, especially among his die-hard supporters,” he elaborated.

“However, it could also demoralize his voters who, considering the fact that their leader cannot become prime minister this time, may either sit at home or vote for the second party or candidate.”


Aamir Latif is a senior journalist based in Karachi. He represents Anadolu, a Turkish news agency
Courtesy: Anadolu Agency (Posted on 01.02.2024)  


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