Imran Khan’s party suffers mass resignations but is this an existential threat?

Senior PTI politicians criticise supporters for being responsible for violence despite continued government clampdown

Former finance and planning minister Asad Umar announces his resignation from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by Imran Khan. EPA
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Pakistan's main opposition party, led by former prime minister Imran Khan, has been left reeling following a string of resignations.

At least 20 senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders have stepped down after expressing their unhappiness with a perceived lack of discipline in the party's ranks after Mr Khan's arrest.

Protests broke out after the arrest of former prime minister. Despite his release days later, more of the party's members continue to be detained weeks later after thousands took to the streets and damaged government property.

The protesters caused $22.3 million in damages to private and public property – $870,000 in Islamabad, $504,216 in Rawalpindi and $20.8 million across Punjab province – while more than 70 public and private sites were damaged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

The violence has killed at least 10 and wounded hundreds more.

Police have arrested thousands, with the Lahore branch urging the Federal Investigation Agency to impose travel restrictions on 746 PTI leaders and activists.

Mr Khan has said he expects to be rearrested any day now after several PTI office bearers, including former finance and planning minister Asad Umar, former human rights minister Shireen Mazari and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were detained under a colonial-era law.

The Maintenance of Public Order law allows the government to detain anyone for at least 30 days.

But almost as fast as the police can make arrests, the judiciary has issued orders for the release of PTI supporters.

That has not stopped some PTI members from resigning after criticising their own members and supporters for being responsible for the violence on the streets.

Former Information Minister and PTI vice president Fawad Chaudry stepped down last week.

Mr Chaudry, who condemned the violence that broke out during protests on May 9, said in a tweet that he was taking a break from politics and “parting ways” with Imran Khan.

However, former finance minister KP Jaghra told The National that the constitution and country's laws had been flouted, “leaving us with one of the most severe campaigns of political repression in history”.

“It may even surpass any previous autocratic rule,” he said.

Mr Jaghra said PTI leaders were resigning because they been given a choice – to either stay with the party and face imprisonment and false charges or depart.

“People can choose to embrace or reject this idea, and no number of resignations can alter that,” he said.

Samar Bilour, a former minister and spokesman for the Awami National Party, part of a 13-party alliance called the Pakistan Democratic Movement that is a political rival to the PTI, told The National that now Mr Khan's party was out of power, it was looking to blame the establishment for its ills.

The riots cannot be swept “under the carpet” and those who committed criminal acts should be punished, she said.

She encouraged PTI leaders to reflect on the protests and rectify their mistakes.

Despite numerous struggles, arrest warrants and attempts to accuse Mr Khan of corruption, the resignations have yet to reach the levels registered in 2017 and 2018, when several elected members defected to the PTI from the rival PML-N.

The defectors joined the PTI, marking a major turning point for Mr Khan's party.

“Just as he was brought into power, now the same thing is happening with Imran Khan,” said Lehaz Ali, a Pakistani political journalist.

“The way PTI was formed is now falling apart as his party supporters and leaders are being swept away and different cases are being implemented against him.”

However, Mr Ali said “wherever Imran Khan stands, the people support him and the votes will be with him in future”.

Updated: May 26, 2023, 5:50 AM