Imran Khan's conviction and his three-year jail term in a corruption case have cleared a "major hurdle" in holding general elections in Pakistan and will help the ruling PML-N and the powerful military establishment to get the "desired results" in the polls, some analysts and political leaders believe.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, 70, was arrested from his home on August 5 shortly after an Islamabad trial court found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in the Toshakhana corruption case and sentenced him to three years in jail, which automatically disqualified him for five years from holding any public office.
The case alleges that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief “deliberately concealed” details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana, a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept, during his time as the Prime Minister and proceeds from their reported sales.
Elections to be held once Imran Khan is sent to jail
From political analysts to politicians of the mainstream parties, there has been a discussion in Pakistan in recent weeks that the general elections which are due in October/November will only be held once Mr. Khan is sent to jail, making it easier for the military establishment to get the "desired results" (in the polls) and install a set up of its choice in Islamabad.
Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told PTI that after the arrest of Khan, there seems to be no reason left to delay the polls.
"Both the ruling PML-N and the military establishment appear to be on the same page," he said.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif last week told leaders of the allied parties that he would send advice to the president for the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9.
No other ‘major hurdle’ to conduct elections
The election is set to be delayed for a couple of months because of the census issue, Rizvi said, adding that otherwise no other "major hurdle" is left.
Mr. Sharif recently said that elections will be held under the digital census of 2023.
Senior PTI leader Mussarat Cheema said Mr. Khan, who was hoping to win the next general election and return as the Prime Minister later this year, was arrested to meet the demand of the PML-N, especially its chief organiser Maryam Nawaz who had set this condition for going into polls.
"Today, justice was slaughtered by disqualifying and convicting a national hero (Imran Khan) in a phoney case. This is what Maryam Nawaz has long been demanding - a level playing field to go into elections," she said in a tweet.
A senior PML-N leader in Punjab told PTI that Mr Khan's arrest has paved the way for general elections.
"There was an apprehension both in the establishment and PML-N that as long as Mr. Khan is a free man, it will not be easy to contain him in polls. Therefore, his arrest was a prerequisite to the polls...otherwise delay was imminent," he said on the condition of anonymity.
No longer PTI chief
Mr. Khan can no longer retain the post of PTI chief after conviction in the Toshakhana case, said Zulfiqar Ahmad Bhutta, an eminent lawyer of the Supreme Court, said.
Lawyer Bhutta said that the conviction has sealed Khan's fate as the party chairman, as per a judgment by the Supreme Court on a constitutional petition filed by PTI itself in the past.
“He will not be able to maintain his position as the chairman of his political party due to his involvement. Imran Khan’s status as PTI chairman has ended automatically in view of a previous Supreme Court ruling, he told The News.
Meanwhile, PTI spokesman Zulfi Bokhari said the court verdict was a "very dark and sad day" as Khan's legal team was not even allowed to present its arguments.
"Today. It wasn't a day of any decisions to be taken or a verdict to be given by a court," he said.
He said Additional Judge Humayun Dilawar of the Islamabad-based district and sessions court who found Khan guilty was specially brought into this case to convict the former prime minister.
"That's in some way or the other trying to eliminate him from the political landscape of Pakistan. So that has now finally happened. They've convicted him. He's not allowed to contest, to be a part of politics for five years," the PTI spokesman said.
Mr. Bokhari said in 27 years of his political career Mr. Khan has only asked for supremacy of law and today, the only struggle that he is fighting for is free and fair elections.
"In Pakistan. He wants nothing else. But he wants Pakistan to remain a stable democratic state, which unfortunately right now, it's not looking so," he added.
Addressing the media after the court ruling, Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb said the detailed verdict has proved that Mr. Khan committed the offence of corruption by making and publishing false statements.
“He has been jailed for being dishonest and corrupt,” she said.
Legal formalities and due procedure were followed
The Minister said legal formalities and due procedure were followed and the decision of the court has nothing to do with politics or the upcoming election.
The trial court announced the verdict after at least 40 hearings, she said, adding that the whole investigation took almost 13 to 14 months.
Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha linked the dramatic rise and fall of Khan with his style of politics attached to the powerful military establishment.
"The so-called ‘Imran Khan Project’ has been systematically dismantled by the same Army institution that had first launched it with great fanfare in 2011," he said.
He added the cricketer-turned-politician has been networking with former military personnel since the days when he formed a lobby with the former ISI chief Hamid Gul in 1994.
Mr. Khan then formed his own party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996 but, till 2011, it remained a tiny outfit with a very small vote bank.
In 2011, the military establishment aided Khan in holding a massive public rally in Lahore that launched him as a potential third political force in Pakistan after the PML-N and the PPP. Currently, the PTI is the most popular party in the country.
Paracha said it was during Khan's 2014 sit-in against the PML-N regime that helped him fully mould his image as an 'incorruptible leader' with a vision and will to turn Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state.
In 2018, with the help of his friends in the military establishment, Mr. Khan managed to win a slight majority and stitch together a coalition government.
"It was an instant disaster. He wasn’t a politician. He was a handsome spiritual leader of a constituency that identified with him entirely on an emotional level. His numerous blunders finally saw the military distancing itself from him, especially when reports of mass-scale corruption by his government began to leak out.
"After his ouster in 2022, he did not retreat to lick his wounds and reassess his strategy. Instead, the slow-motion trainwreck that was his regime gained pace after his ouster, until crashing his party and his political career at the hands of the military," Paracha said.
The May 9 attacks on the military and state buildings by the PTI workers in reaction to their leader Mr Khan's arrest is cited as a big blunder.
Widespread protests erupted across Pakistan after Khan was arrested outside a court in Islamabad by paramilitary Rangers in a corruption case on May 9.
His party workers vandalised over 20 military installations and government buildings, including the Lahore Corps Commander House, Mianwali airbase and the ISI building in Faisalabad.
The Army headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi was also attacked by the mob for the first time.
Following the protests, police arrested over 10,000 PTI supporters inducing women under terrorism charges. Some of them are being tried under the Army Act.
Imran Khan faces more than 140 cases
Mr, Khan is facing more than 140 cases across the country and faces charges like terrorism, violence, blasphemy, corruption and murder.
Meanwhile, the Dawn newspaper, in an editorial, noted that Pakistan's twisted political saga continues without the slightest deviation from a tired and predictable script.
The fact is that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were not, and Imran Khan will not be rendered irrelevant to Pakistanis over some technical knockout, it said.
"The fate of a politician rests in the hands of their constituency, and no amount of external interference can change this simple relationship," it added.