Imran Khan says he is struggling under deluge of government charges

Pakistan's former prime minister tells The National that the country is in the grip of military rule

Imran Khan speaks to reporters in Islamabad a month before a no-confidence vote in parliament toppled his government. Reuters
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Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has told The National he is still “fighting for his country” – but warned he is struggling to deal with almost 180 charges against him, which he says are fabricated.

Mr Khan said the charges were part of a conspiracy to disqualify him and undermine his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, ahead of elections in October.

The embattled former cricket star said he was concerned with so many legal battles in the build-up to the vote.

Imran Khan vows to keep fighting for Pakistan

Imran Khan vows to keep fighting for Pakistan

He also said he was considering how much longer he could continue to defend himself after being vocal about reform in the country.

“We have seen the worst crackdown in our history,” Mr Khan, 70, said in an interview.

We are sitting at crossroads right now in Pakistan. Either we will move towards military dictatorship or we will head towards a free and fair election

“All my senior leadership is in jail; they can only come out if they renounce being part of my party. And about 10,000 of my workers are in jail all over the country.”

He praised the work of those that had defended him.

He said: “They might get me on some case where I just can't defend myself right now. My lawyers, they're all volunteers. So, they're doing a great job. But for how long?”

Pakistan's military rule

The army holds considerable power in Pakistan, having established itself as the dominant force in the country's politics since its inception.

Analysts say civilian politicians are little more than figureheads and real power, including control over the country’s courts and key parts of the economy, lies with the generals.

Mr Khan, who seemingly fell out of favour with the army, has been vocal about reforming governance in the country.

He has previously said it was “completely the establishment” that was after his party, and that by “establishment”, he means the military.

“Unfortunately, when I was in power for three and a half years, I just could not bring the powerful under the law. And they were the ones who then schemed with the army chief and conspired to remove my government,” he told The National.

Mr Khan was arrested while in court in Islamabad in May, where he was facing one of the dozens of cases that have been made against him since he was ousted from power.

“They beat up everyone, they broke the place up, they beat up the lawyers. I also got hit,” says Mr Khan.

Security services, including Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, accuse Mr Khan of planning mass protests in the capital, including marches on parliament, and inciting violence.

In November, Mr Khan said supporters would march on Islamabad but called off the protest at the last minute, warning of “chaos”.

Mr Khan repeatedly rallied his supporters by demanding early elections, a stance which led the government to escalate charges against him, including an accusation from Mr Sanaullah that he was guilty of “terrorism”.

The government has since passed the Pakistan Army Act, allowing thousands of people to be tried in military courts in connection with protests.

UN human rights chief Volker Türk condemned the move as a “disturbing” breach of human rights.

Dramatic arrest

The stand-off involving Mr Khan culminated in him being led into a vehicle among a group of heavily armed officers, in front of journalists.

His arrest led to widespread protests across Pakistan before he was eventually released on bail.

The cases against him include charges of corruption, terrorism, contempt of court, rioting and even blasphemy.

When asked what his plans would be if he were prevented from running in the elections in October, Mr Khan said his party would not give up fighting, but he was not hopeful about their prospects.

“Right now, they have not been successful and tried to disqualify me because none of the cases, when they go to court, they are such bogus cases that they get thrown out,” he said.

“But they now have several military courts. So, the whole thing is that they would actually then try to charge me with treason or something.

“That's what they hope to disqualify me, which is what it looks like right now. Although, you never know, there's so many cases and I'm finding it very difficult, you know, going from one to the other to get bail. So, they might get me on some case where I just can't defend myself.”

“We are suffering because of the policies of the previous army chief, Gen Bajwa. I mean, the running of the economy was thrown off balance by him, removing our government, and since then, the economy has crashed, we now have the worst economic indicators in our history.”

Pakistan's national crisis

Pakistan is currently in the grip of rampant inflation – at nearly 30 per cent, massive national debt and is recovering from catastrophic flooding, which caused an estimated $40 billion in damage.

A recent deal with the International Monetary Fund to alleviate its financial woes is not expected to be more than a stopgap measure, without far-reaching reforms.

“Unless we fix our governance system through rule of law, I don't think we are going to be able to get out of this mess, especially the economic mess we have created, because you cannot get investment in the country.”

“If you don't have investment, you don't have wealth creation. And if you don't have wealth creation, how do you pay your debts?”

The country is battling a “hydra-headed” insurgency along the border with Afghanistan, including the Pakistani Taliban and Baloch separatists.

“We are sitting at crossroads right now in Pakistan. I mean, either we will move towards military dictatorship – we already have unannounced, undeclared martial law – or we will head towards a free and fair election,” he says.

Updated: July 07, 2023, 4:26 AM