A showdown between Pakistan’s military and the country’s most popular political leader could push the nation to the brink of chaos
Deutsche Welle

Any attempt to dissolve the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party would likely plunge Pakistan into a deeper political crisis — not to mention boosting the ex-PM’s popularity, analysts have warned.

Police have arrested more than 7,500 PTI members and supporters since Khan’s arrest on 9 May triggered deadly riots and attacks on Pakistani military installations.

The PTI complained that hundreds of its workers and leaders were rearrested even after having been granted bail by courts — including former Human Rights Minister Shirin Mazari.

Khan has incensed the military

Pakistani authorities warned that those suspected of being involved in the violent protests would face trials in the country’s controversial military courts — a platform typically reserved for enemies of the state.

The decision to try civilians under army laws has been slammed by rights groups.

Over a dozen of PTI parliamentarians, former ministers and office bearers have deserted Khan over the attacks.

However, the former PM asserted that his party leaders were pressured into parting ways with him.

Khan has been highly critical of the country’s military since his ouster from power last year.

And earlier this month, the ex-PM accused the military of abducting him — a claim that has infuriated the army, which slammed the former prime minister’s assertions as completely baseless.

Putting the PTI under pressure

Anyone who challenges Pakistan’s army faces the wrath of the nation’s most powerful institution, Karachi-based analyst Tauseef Ahmed Khan pointed out.

It seems that Khan’s party will be banned, he told DW, adding that he might even be prosecuted and disqualified.

“Such pressure will affect the party, forcing leaders to part ways with Khan. So, in a way, it will be dismantled,” the analyst said.

Asma Shirazi, an Islamabad-based commentator, believes that the attacks have incensed the military.

Imran Khan might be disqualified, she told DW, adding that his party would also face a lot of pressure which it might not be able to sustain.

Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US and a scholar at Hudson Institute Washington, echoed Shirazi’s sentiments.

“Khan’s party will subsequently emerge as a much smaller party than it currently seems,” Haqqani said.

Would a ban dent Khan’s popularity?

But the former PM is considered Pakistan’s most popular leader.

Noor Fatima, an Islamabad-based academic, believes that a ban would harm Khan’s rivals and not Khan himself.

It will not be a wise decision, she told DW, adding that political plurality strengthens democracy.

“But if the government ends this plurality by banning PTI, it would damage the democratic credentials of ruling parties, affecting their vote banks, not that of Khan’s,” said Fatima.

While the ruling PDM alliance and other pro-establishment elements are calling for a ban on the PTI, critics warn against such actions.

Activist Sadia from Okara city of Punjab believes that if the PTI is outlawed, it would be used as a pretext to ban other political parties in the future.

“We don’t like the PTI’s way of politics but would strongly oppose banning any political party. Such a ban would spell disaster for the democratic future of the country,” Sadia said.

Tauseef believes that such a ban would further consolidate the position of the army.

“It will create an impression that democratic parties are not capable of dealing with political crises. Therefore, politicians should avoid banning PTI, sorting out issues through dialogue,” Tauseef said.

History repeating itself?

If Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf were to be banned, it wouldn’t be the first party to be outlawed after drawing the ire of the country’s army.

In the 1960s, the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party was outlawed — while during 1970s the left-wing National Awami Party was declared illegal.

A number of sectarian and religious organisations were outlawed under General Pervez Musharraf, who ruled the country for nearly nine years after seizing power in a military coup in 1999.

Political parties like the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement also faced undeclared bans, and the Pakistan People’s Party received similar treatment during the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul Haq from 1977 to 1988.