The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has granted pre-arrest bail to Imran Khan for 3-days in a terrorism case registered against him yesterday, August 21, 2022. Pakistani police booked the former Prime Minister under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act for some comments he made in a speech at a PTI protest rally in Islamabad on Saturday, August 20, 2022. The rally was reportedly in solidarity with Khan’s political aid Shahbaz Gill, who was detained 2 weeks ago. FIR against Khan said he “terrorized and threatened” a female judge and top police officials in his speech. Khan filed a petition stating that the ruling government of PDM targeted him for his “fearless criticism” against corruption and “corrupt politicians”. Khan was advised to use his 3-day bail and approach the Anti-Terrorism court as IHC was not an appropriate court for this case.
Imran Khan Speech at Rally Offends the Government
Since being ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022, Imran Khan has been all over the country giving fiery speeches in political rallies. He routinely criticizes the incumbent government and the armed forces in his call for elections. State media regulator PEMRA banned the TV channels from airing his Saturday address, accusing him of “hate speech against the institutions”. PTI leader held another political rally on Sunday to condemn the ban.
In the censored speech, Khan lambasted Islamabad police and a judge for detaining and torturing his party member, Shahbaz Gill. His main targets were IG, DIG, and an Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry, who approved a 2-day physical remand for Gill at police request. Khan called out the military by using the word “neutrals” and advised them to stand with justice rather than “thieves” (referring to the government members). He also alleged that whenever the police were asked about thier behaviour with Shahbaz Gill, they said they were following “orders from behind”.
Gill served as a Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication from May 2020 to April 2022. Police said they arrested Gill for “statements against state institutions” and “inciting rebellion”. Khan alleged that the government arrested Gill to warn that it could make or break anyone. He also said that his party would file cases against the IG, DIG, and the judge who played a part in this lawless capture of Gill. The government said Khan had to face the law for “instigating extremism in society”.
Supporters Mark Thier Red Line
Hundreds of PTI supporters gathered outside Khan’s Bani Gala residency after the news of his arrest attempts. Former Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur tweeted, “we will take over Islamabad” if anyone tried to arrest Khan. P Supporters attributed arresting Khan to “crossing a red line” that sounded like a warning. Several PTI members, including Fawad Chaudhry, Asad Umar, Murad Saeed, Hammad Azhar, and Omar Ayub Pervaiz Khattak, joined the sit-in at Bani Gala to prevent Khan’s arrest.
Police were also deployed at the scene, claiming they were only there to maintain law and order instead of arresting Khan. They closed the area to unauthorized public and only allowed residents and people close to Khan to enter. Soon the protests spread to other cities, including Lahore, Gujranwala, Karachi, Faislabad, and Sialkot.
What Can Pakistan Achieve From Its Antics Against Khan?
The news of the possible arrest of Imran Khan started a debate on social media regarding the government’s skill to counter the opposition. The glamorous cricketer-turned-politician became the Prime Minister in 2018 with support from the public and institutions. However, Khan lost the support of parliament and the army in his 4th year as a PM. Moreover, Khan accused the US of toppling his government over relations with China and Russia, inviting further criticism. Even after being ousted in a no-confidence vote, his supporter base continued to rise. Thousands protested the alleged regime change in Pakistan in many parts of the world.
Khan’s followership has become so intense that many think tanks fear his arrest could bring massive civil unrest. Deputy Director of Asia Program by US Wilson Center, Michael Kugelman, criticized the Pakistan government’s obsession with Khan that compelled them to make “dysfunctional and repressive” policies. He reckoned that such things would eventually work in Khan’s favour as he could use the public anger to his own political advantage.