How Long Will Courts Continue To Give Imran Khan Respite?

How Long Will Courts Continue To Give Imran Khan Respite?
With securing protective bail in nine cases, displaying strength as a huge crowd of supporters led him to the courts in Lahore, and keeping the media spotlight on him, the day ended on a positive note for former prime minister Imran Khan and his party.

A mellow Khan thanked the judges for stopping the police operation and “saving him” from the attack, and the judge reciprocated the gesture by saying Khan had to simply bring himself "into the system". "There was no problem in this case. You mishandled it," said Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh. 

Imran Khan appeared before the Lahore high court (LHC) on Friday March 17, where his protective bail was approved in eight terrorism cases and one civil case — for a grand total of nine. Five of those cases were registered in Islamabad, and four in Lahore.

A two-member LHC bench comprising Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh and Justice Farooq Haider granted Khan protective bail in multiple terrorism cases registered in Lahore until March 27. The court further granted him protective bail for cases filed in Islamabad until March 24.

The LHC also granted police a warrant to search Khan’s Lahore residence in Zaman Park, in investigating the incidents that left several people injured on March 14 and March 15, 2023.

Khan victorious yet again

The events of the day indicated that the next few days in the country belong to Imran Khan. The court will act as an arbiter and likely give Khan more relief. Abbas Nasir tweeted: “It seems every move now is scripted and a possible dialogue may well start sometime soon.”

In an attempt to present himself as the 'only political voice' in the country — through his online speeches with the Pakistan and PTI flags carefully choreographed in the background — Imran Khan has essentially played peek-a-boo with the courts since the start of 2023. Some 94 cases have been filed against him in various courts, “just six short of a non-cricketing century,” according to Imran Khan himself. 

In the Toshkhana case, between Jan 9 and Feb 28, the court summoned Khan four times – on January 9, January 31, February 7, and February 21. Each time he was exempted from appearing personally, and the proceedings were adjourned. On February 28 when Khan did not appear in court again, a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued for March 7. 

Judicial favouritism? 

On March 6, the Islamabad High Court suspended the non-bailable warrant, and 'asked' Imran Khan to appear in the court on March 13. However, Khan failed to appear, and the non-bailable warrant was reissued for March 18. 

Commenting on Khan’s treatment in court, analyst Iftikhar Ahmed said on Naya Daur’s flagship Khabar Say Aagay program aired on March 17 that perhaps it would be better to bury the current justice system of justice, and replace it with an informal jirga to resolve the dispute.

“The judicial system in Pakistan will now run on the basis of display of brute force. The parties or individuals that have the support of crowds that can rock, rattle and shatter the system will rule the country.” 

Iftikhar Ahmed said that if a court issues a warrant and then withdraws it under pressure, as in the Toshakhana case, “it will asked whether no one except the elite have any rights in this country.” He pointed at the use of mobs, political strength, and petrol bombs against police which was trying to implement a court order. “I fear the next elections because ‘this’ man isn’t ready to accept defeat and his crowd is charged,” he added.

Justice and order, versus mob rule 

Murtaza Solangi said, “the traditional systems can guarantee justice and order. In the present case, however, law and justice has been buried, and a rule of mob and troll brigade established.” 

He said that the appeasing conduct of the court, and giving permission to Imran to bring his vehicle inside the LHC premises, have set a wrong precedent that would be misused for decades to come.

Signs of a political thaw? 

In a sudden change of heart, or just a random mood swing, Imran Khan has expressed willingness to talk to anyone and “render any sacrifice” for the country’s sake. Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has also called for national unity among the political leadership to address the country’s challenges. These are good signs. Maybe in the next few days, and during Ramzan in particular, things will pass by smoothly. 

'Special treatment' 

However, political analysts and observers are more concerned about the special treatment Imran Khan receives from the courts which, they say, has more to do with courts’ decision to be partial to him. 

“Clearly the balance is tilted in Khan’s favour, in terms of formation of benches that hear his cases. The Supreme Court still has that entrenched pro-Imran Khan-Saqib Nisar culture in 4-5 judges who are always on the benches hearing Khan’s cases, or those which can change his future chances. Little can change while such elements hold their current positions,” said an analyst who prefers to remain unnamed. 

For now, let’s wait and see when Khan and his friends — and foes, for that matter — declare the innings, and what the courts reveal about his past.