Khan accused of threatening authorities . . .
The Pakistani government charged former Prime Minister Imran Khan with terrorism on Sunday, a day after he threatened to sue the police and a judge for the alleged torture of one of his political aides – accusations the government flatly denies. A court granted Khan three days of “protective bail,” temporarily shielding him from arrest. The former PM was ousted in April in a no-confidence motion but has been unrelenting in mobilizing his supporters in fierce opposition to the current government, led by Shahbaz Sharif. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, recently prevailed in key local elections, and his supporters have formed a “human chain” around his home, vowing to block authorities from taking him into custody.
Perilous timing . . .
This latest turmoil comes at a fraught time for Pakistan. The country has so far averted a total economic meltdown like the one that recently felled much of Sri Lanka’s political class. But Islamabad is facing a serious debt crisis, made worse by a sharp rise in commodity prices. Prime Minister Shahbaz is banking on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approving the release of a C$1.5-billion payment, part of a C$7.8-billion rescue package first agreed to in 2019. Last week, his government said it has met the requirements for the release of the funds, which were suspended earlier this year over concerns about the Khan government’s economic mismanagement. PM Shahbaz is also wrapping up a trip to Qatar, where he made a case for investment the country badly needs.
Eyes on the electoral prize . . .
What happens in the coming days could undermine Shabaz’s efforts to assure foreign lenders of the country’s stability. Legal experts say the charges against Khan are not airtight and that the anti-terror law is often used mainly as a cudgel to silence political opposition. But Khan remains voluble and strident in his criticism of the government and all-powerful military. Moreover, he continues to demand that a new round of national elections be held soon. That is unlikely, however, since whoever holds the prime minister position as of November will get to appoint the next army chief. Much is at stake in how Pakistan navigates the choppy political waters ahead.