Popular former leader arrested as his party vows to go to Supreme Court
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was convicted Saturday for improper handling of state gifts and given a three-year prison sentence, prompting his swift arrest.
Khan was taken into custody in Lahore, where he resides, shortly after a court found him guilty of concealing gifts received during his term in office, which lasted from 2018 until he was removed in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. The allegedly misappropriated items were reportedly worth over 140 million Pakistani rupees (around $500,000).
The politician’s account on X, formerly Twitter, posted a message and pre-recorded video. “My arrest was expected,” Khan said in the tweet, claiming that it was part of a “London plan” hatched by the military-government establishment to banish him.
“I want my party workers to remain peaceful, steadfast, and strong. We bow before no one but Allah,” he wrote. Khan is expected to be imprisoned at Adyala Jail Rawalpindi.
The verdict marks another major twist in a political crisis that has raged since Khan was ousted and began demanding snap elections. He was already arrested once, in May, when his brief detention sparked violent unrest and a crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
The conviction, if it stands, means the still widely popular Khan will not be able to run in the next general election, due by November.
The fate of the election itself remains unclear, too, as Pakistan’s Council of Common Interest (CCI) was meeting in Islamabad on Saturday to decide whether to approve the country’s latest census — a move that could add months to the electoral schedule. A source familiar with the discussions said the council gave the approval, with some local media outlets reporting the same, although no official announcement had been made as of late afternoon.
A spokesperson for Khan’s PTI termed the verdict a political one and announced that it will be challenged in the Supreme Court. It was the top court that granted Khan bail in May after he was arrested over another corruption case — among scores of legal charges against him. The 70-year-old ex-cricket star denies all wrongdoing.
There was no immediate sign of protests by Khan’s supporters on Saturday. However, police in Islamabad have beefed up security, with reports of authorities in the surrounding Punjab province planning to arrest PTI workers to pre-empt demonstrations.
The case in which Khan was convicted was filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan, which accused him of deliberately hiding the details of gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository of presents received from foreign officials.
While Pakistani politics are anything but predictable, experts’ initial reaction was that Khan has been all but removed from the political landscape.
Sabookh Syed, a political analyst in Islamabad, told Nikkei Asia that the conviction means Khan is not only barred from running in the election but will also be removed from the chairmanship of the PTI.
“The remaining leaders of the PTI do not have any problem with the military establishment and hence resistance by PTI will be over,” he said, referring to the powerful armed forces.
But taking Khan out of the picture could be a mixed blessing for the ruling coalition.
Syed suggested that the Pakistan Democratic Alliance — the 13-party governing coalition — could break down, with infighting resulting in further chaos.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, tweeted that “not long ago, Pakistan’s political crisis appeared to be easing a bit, with the government pledging to step down and make way for a caretaker to prepare for elections.”
“But now,” he continued, “with Khan arrested again and indications that elections may be delayed, all bets are completely off.”
Originally published on Nikkei Asia