Rumours Abound Of 'Imminent Arrest' As Imran Khan Appears In IHC Today

Rumours Abound Of 'Imminent Arrest' As Imran Khan Appears In IHC Today
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is bracing itself for possible unrest if former prime minister Imran Khan is arrested during his hearing at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) today. The hearing is in relation to one of many cases against Khan, whose government was ousted in a vote of no confidence in April 2022.

Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan suffered from dwindling popularity as prime minister in early 2022, but bounced back after his ouster to become a potent political force in his own right, selling a narrative to the masses and generating massive crowds at a series of rallies across Pakistan.

But Khan has also faces serious legal troubles as numerous cases have been registered against him and his party's leaders. In addition to terrorism charges and blasphemy charges, the cases also include allegations of improprieties while in office, as well as some of his fiery public speeches and rhetoric being found in violation of the law.

Rumours have been circulating that the Pakistan Army chief, Gen Asim Munir, has ordered Imran Khan's arrest in Islamabad. However, these claims are being made by social media influencers and YouTubers who sympathize with Khan's narrative. The army has affirmed that it works under the government, and has for long maintained that it ceased any involvement in manipulating the country's political (and judicial) processes since February 2021. But Khan's supporters claim that the military establishment will continue to prevent his return to power by any means necessary.

Tensions in the federal capital run high as Imran Khan is likely to be accompanied by hundreds of supporters to the IHC today, for 'moral support' but also as a show of force in the face of law enforcement officials who could be there to arrest him, as they fear. There are chances of widespread protests and possible civil unrest as hordes of Khan's admirers and adherents vow to take to the streets if he is taken into custody. Khan's opponents demand his accountability, and of those who broke the law in facilitating him and his political rise.

Imran Khan has alleged that his previous appearance at the IHC lured him into a trap that could have resulted in his assassination, under the pretext of his arrest. He repeated these allegations in a video message that the PTI account tweeted before Khan left his Zaman Park residence in Lahore, for his court hearing in Islamabad.

Imran Khan has also called his supporters to come out on their streets and in their villages on Saturday (May 6) to show solidarity with the Chief Justice of Pakistan. He also said that he will be holding four rallies in the coming days and weeks. Concerns persist that any show of street power by the PTI could escalate into clashes with law enforcement, leading to violence and further political instability in a country already reeling from terror attacks and a broken economy. Since last year, PTI has routinely accused the incumbent Pakistan government of 'state repression' as it tries to force general elections in the country.

Khan's arrest could also have wider implications for the general elections, which are due to be held in October this year but are subject to negotiations between Khan's PTI and the PDM coalition government. Others are speculating that a long term caretaker government might be put in place to salvage the economy, arguing that holding elections in such a politically charged atmosphere would be risky. Khan has already drawn parallels to 1971, when Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) seceded from the Pakistani federation after elections were held, but power was not transferred to the winning Awami League party.

However, Khan's supporters have a different view. They argue that his arrest would only fuel his popularity and strengthen his position in the lead-up to the elections. When asked if elections would even be held after Khan was arrested, PTI supporters claimed that the establishment only wanted Khan out of their way.

The situation is complex and has only deteriorated in the past few months, after the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved by Khan, and the Supreme Court involved itself in deciding the date of the elections. A clear consensus on how events will unfold in the coming days and weeks, and what path the government and other stakeholders might take, remains elusive thus far. The PDM government and Khan's PTI remain locked in a battle for power, with the future of Pakistan hanging in the balance.

As the hearing gets underway, all eyes are expected to be on the IHC which will determine whether former premier Imran Khan's arrest takes place, or if he continues to enjoy relief as he has for months. The fate of the wildly popular former premier, and of his country, could be determined today.