Imran Khan Confident He'd Win Elections With A New Party If PTI Gets Banned

Imran Khan Confident He'd Win Elections With A New Party If PTI Gets Banned
Pakistan's increasingly isolated former prime minister Imran Khan vowed to form a new party if his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was banned by the authorities.

Khan spoke with Nikkei Asia on Thursday a short while before Pakistani premier Shehbaz Sharif announced that he would hand over power to a caretaker government in August.

This paves the way for a general election whose schedule and timing Khan has been attempting to control since April last year, when his government was ousted in a no-confidence vote.

The future of PTI

The fate of his PTI remains uncertain, as calls for banning the party have grown following their being implicated in violent riots that erupted when Khan was arrested on May 9. Crowds of PTI supporters and ardent followers of Khan clashed with security forces, attacking military installations around the country, in the wake of Khan's arrest.

The military has since asserted that the rioting and arson was premeditated, coordinated, and implemented with a view to pressure the army's rank and file into mutiny. Senior officers of the Pakistan Army, including a three-star general, have been fired, while many other high-ranking officers have been reprimanded for what the ISPR called their failure to ensure the security of installations under their command and control that day.

The Pakistan military's spokesperson Maj Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry said that over a hundred civilians were being tried in military courts over allegations of direct involvement in the May 9 violence. Many of these civilians are PTI supporters who spilled out into the streets in anger over Khan's unceremonious arrest from the Islamabad high court premises.

Nevertheless, Khan remained defiant. "Even if they disqualify me and throw me in jail, the party will still win," he boasted.

A new party?

Khan proclaimed to Nikkei Asia that if the government would proscribe his party "then we will form a party with a new name and still win the elections." He remained nonplussed the mountain of legal charges against him.

Even Adnan Aamir of Nikkei Asia noted that Khan's optimism "contrasts with what many would consider setback after setback for Khan and the PTI. They have been locked in an intense power struggle with the ruling establishment, including the influential military".

Rule of law or suppressing dissent?

The violence of May 9 resulted in a fierce crackdown on the PTI, as authorities have apprehended thousands of Khan supporters. Numerous high-profile figures were detained, and only released after they agreed to quit the party. Meanwhile, many PTI supporters, as well as the party's rank-and-file that continues to stand with Khan, accuse the government of orchestrating state-sponsored harassment campaigns against them.

Some speak of the police raiding their homes, destroying their furniture and belongings, harassing their family members, and arresting their relatives when they cannot apprehend the PTI supporter the authorities are looking for. Claims of similar nature are made by PTI supporters on social media every day.

This ruthless treatment of PTI has begun to show dents in Khan's popularity, as he is no longer able to draw the thousands that his rallies and online speeches used to attract. However, this clampdown on yet another political party does not bode well for the health of Pakistan's teetering democracy.

The current government is considering courts-martial for Khan and other PTI leaders; trying them in existing military courts under stringent laws. In May, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Khan will be tried in a military court, after he accused the former premier of personal culpability in planning the attacks.

Confidence or hubris?

In typical fashion, Khan insisted that his support base remains intact, stressing that it was Pakistani politics that had fundamentally changed. When asked about the ongoing clampdown on the PTI, Khan said that the government was still trying to break his party through intimidation tactics. "When there is public support for a political party then it cannot be stopped by the use of force," he told Nikkei Asia.

Many of Khan's detractors remind him that the tactics being employed against his party today are similar to the coordinated judicial and media campaigns against his political opponents in the run up to 2018, when general elections were held and dubious results – widely alleged to have been engineered by the-then military establishment – brought Khan and his PTI to power.

Khan insisted that he was still the most popular politician in Pakistan, and that if his candidates were barred from participating, the polls would be completely discredited. "This will make the elections useless and subsequently there will be even more destabilization in the country," he warned.