The release of Pakistani politician Imran Khan following a brief detention on Thursday has been seen as a major blow to the ruling alliance. The arrest of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader was expected to bolster the ruling alliance’s political capital. However, the tables turned when Imran was released on May 11 by the Supreme Court, just two days after his arrest by Rangers on orders from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Imran had been accused of looting Rs50 billion from the national treasury along with a property tycoon, and getting the Al-Qadir University Trust registered on 450-kanal of land. His arrest led to violent protests and attacks on government and military buildings, resulting in at least six deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of PTI supporters detained, including key leaders.
Political polarization in the country has deepened since the events of May 9, which the army declared as a dark chapter in history. The events are expected to have a negative impact on the PTI-establishment relationship. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), believes that “the events of 9th May following the arrest of Imran would have a profound and adverse impact on the future relationship of the establishment and the PTI.”
Mehboob added that the rampage by PTI supporters and their attack on military installations and properties will harm the public standing of the party. The inability of the security agencies to protect the symbols of the military might has also dented the image of the military’s invincibility.
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While the manner of arresting Imran was deemed inappropriate, the SC decision to release him could provide the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and other ruling parties an opportunity to claim that courts are applying double standards. The government has been given an excuse to keep delaying elections, and the recent events have proven to “the anti-Khan team” that they have very few options to shut him out of the political process.
As Pakistan heads to the next polls, power politics-based brutal struggle among the political forces raises questions about the future of democracy in the country. The government is still struggling to undermine Khan’s credibility, despite having lost much of its political capital after coming into power by ousting ex-premier Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence in April 2022.
The prolonged political instability and the events of May 9 may have a lasting impact on Pakistan’s political landscape.