According to Talat Masood, defence expert and noted columnist on geo political matters, the trial court sentence of former PM and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan to three years in prison along with a substantial fine, followed by his shifting to Attock Jail, is a sad reflection of the nation’s plight. But considering Pakistan’s tainted history, it is not surprising. It is not the first time that a Pakistan’s PM or President, elected or those who came through coups, have met a similar fate. Some were even assassinated or died under mysterious circumstances. The list is long and a grim reminder of the country’s weak and troubled history. Such gory incidents need to be recounted, time and again.
The first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, while addressing a huge public gathering in Rawalpindi, was shot dead by a hired assassin who was immediately overpowered and killed by the mob. All security norms were glaringly ignored to protect the country’s first Prime Minister.
Later, the death sentence of Prime Minister ZA Bhutto, considered by many as a judicial murder, divided the polity deeply, the scars of which had a lasting effect. Again, General Zia’s demise along with a large number of senior army officers and the US Ambassador in a plane crash remains mysterious and far from being solved. Similarly, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto seemed well-planned. It was a tragic end for a political leader with a promising future. The motive of the murder and who was complicit is still unknown. Even an UN-designated team failed to make any headway in its investigation.
Attempt on Imran Khan’s life during the protest movement in which he was seriously wounded remains unexplained. Leaders in mature democracies with relatively stable societies, too, have faced targeted killing or bomb blasts and lost their leaders. The most glaring examples were the assassinations of President JF Kennedy and Indira Gandhi.
Deliberate efforts were made by respective governments to trace and punish the assassins, but not so in Pakistan. This is a grey area in the country and calls for introspection.
In several countries, important political leaders have faced serious judicial cases while in office or in retirement. President Donald Trump of the US, PM Netanyahu of Israel etc. are currently being prosecuted for judicial cases. Netanyahu was officially indicted for breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud, leading him to legally relinquish his ministry portfolios other than Prime Minister.
A former Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, was released from prison on parole after serving two-thirds of a 27-month sentence for fraud. By and large, the due process of law is followed and any deviation or relaxation is vehemently challenged in courts and opposed through public protests.
Rule of law
According to analysts, it is important that the rule of law and its sanctity are preserved and not subjected to distortions and political interference, as is generally the case in Pakistan.
This was so evident from the haste that was shown in the trial of Imran Khan. He had committed an offence by not fully declaring some of his assets in accordance with the Election Commission rules. But had he been given more time to defend himself, justice would have been seen to be delivered. In Pakistan, political leaders in opposition bear the brunt, and those in power generally get their cases squashed or evidence diluted to an extent that it loses its sting. Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif experienced the same ordeal when they were in opposition. In September 2020, Shehbaz Sharif was arrested as part of PM Khan’s anti-corruption drive.
Khan had launched a campaign for months to malign and disrepute Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif. Such practices set wrong precedence, erode the confidence of the public in the justice system and have a negative effect. Moreover, manipulating justice by those in power involves several unlawful activities. As a consequence, even unbiased and genuine cases are viewed with suspicion. These are, in fact, prevailing perceptions articulated by Pakistani commentators in various columns.
Amid these developments, the PML-N leadership is wary that their prospects in elections, if held in the near future, are bleak. The interim government nonetheless should ensure that fresh delimitation is accorded high priority and does not result in inordinate delay as it might lead to unforeseen consequences, especially with respect to the economy. Sharif, in June, secured a USD 3bn loan from the IMF, narrowly helping to avoid national default.
But inflation remains at near-record levels and economists estimate debt repayments for the current financial year, which runs to next June, totaling about USD 25bn. Analysts caution that avoiding further financial crises will require deep economic reforms. Ghazi Salahuddin, a commentator for The News International, said such reforms would not happen unless Pakistan had an elected government backed by consensus on the need for action.
He opined, “national consensus and national agreement in a divided Pakistan will be hard to achieve”.
Meanwhile, according to Uzair Younus, Director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, “In isolation, Imran Khan’s disqualification and arrest seems like the legal process proceeding as intended”. However, Younus felt that the sequence of events “points to the fact that Pakistan’s democratic backsliding has accelerated in recent weeks”.
All this said, Pakistan is on the brink of a severe brewing of political and economic storm needing to be weathered, sooner than later.