The month of August has seen nearly the entire leadership of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) put behind bars in one case or another. This has raised questions on who really is calling shots in a party that was always very top-heavy in its decision-making.
Party Chairman Imran Khan was arrested at the beginning of August after being sentenced to three years in jail in the Toshakhana case. His interaction with his lawyers, let alone party leaders, has been limited ever since he was taken to the Attock Jail.
Even though the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended the other day his jail sentence, the former prime minister will remain behind bars as a judge had already ordered his detention in the Cipher case.
Similarly, his vice chairman, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was arrested later in August after being booked under the Official Secrets Act in the Cipher case. He remains on physical remand even as his party hotly contest it.
Elsewhere, PTI President Chaudhry Parvez Elahi remains in custody in Lahore over corruption charges.
Several other erstwhile senior leaders of the party, including the likes of Asad Umar, had left their party position in the aftermath of the May 9 incident. Many other stalwarts, such as Murad Saeed and Hammad Azhar, have either gone into hiding or have left for other pastures, such as Parvez Khattak. Others still, such as Shireen Mazari, have adopted neutrality by taking a sabbatical from politics.
But if there is one rule in politics, it is that the vacuum of leadership cannot remain for long. Even if temporary, it has to be filled, as we have seen in other parties who have faced similar conditions to what the PTI faces today.
At the moment, a group of PTI's secondary and tertiary leaders are leading the party under the umbrella of its core committee. The core committee runs the party's day-to-day affairs. Around 50-odd members comprise this committee and are based in different parts of the country.
The main policy-level decisions are sometimes discussed with the party's incarcerated leadership before a final nod is obtained, background discussions with PTI's legal and political leaders revealed.
Advocate Shoaib Shaheen told The Friday Times that members of the core committee from different parts of the country are jointly running the party.
"I am also a member of the core committee," he asserted, adding that all important decisions are taken in the core committee.
Considered to be the party's legal brain along with Babar Awan, he said that decisions are made with consensus and in light of past decisions of party chief Imran Khan.
Political and constitutional experts say the core committee of the PTI will continue to oversee and manage the affairs of the party until its main leadership becomes available.
Vote bank intact
Apart from managing day-to-day affairs and certain policy decisions, the core committee members seemed to be concerned with the political future of the party, noting that the party's vote bank remains intact. The point of concern was whether party chief Imran Khan would remain legally eligible to contest upcoming general elections or not.
PTI Senior Leader Dr Babar Awan said Imran Khan was in 'ultra spirit'.
"Minus Imran, there is no politics in the country," he told The Friday Times, claiming that the results of upcoming general elections would be surprising for all.
"Without any campaigning, the results of elections (LG polls and others) is evidence of the love and support Imran Khan still enjoys in public," he said, adding that after the suspension of his conviction, the former prime minister has been restored as the party's chairman.
Meanwhile, legal and political workers in the party, in their interaction with the media, insist that their party's leadership is the victim of a witch hunt and remain confident that Imran Khan would contest the upcoming polls and surprise the world as their vote bank remains intact.
"Imagine, without any campaign nor the support of even the second tier leadership, the party grabbed a significant chunk in the local body polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," Advocate Shoaib Shaheen told The Friday Times.
Shaheen echoed Awan's comments on Imran that he remains in good spirits and is confident of coming out of these crises unscathed and acquitted in all the cases.
"He (Imran Khan) is even more confident about his success and in very good spirits to come out of this crisis," he claimed.
Shaheen added that victory in the second phase of the local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had dealt a heavy blow to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
"Such results would be reflected in the general elections," he stated confidently.