The more the military-backed establishment tries to remove Imran Khan from politics, the more popular he may become.

Since his no-confidence vote in April, Khan has rallied his followers in the world’s fifth-most populated country to demand a new election. Khan’s party has won important by-elections recently.

The former cricket star has also brought tens of thousands to protests against Pakistan’s military, which has governed the country for half its history and retains outsized influence over democratic governments. Khan blasted senior police officials and a judge who arrested one of his aides in Islamabad over the weekend.
A police complaint under the country’s anti-terrorism code relates to the speech, and a judge has ordered Khan to appear next week to consider contempt of court charges for threatening judicial officials. The administration is also considering banning Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf from national elections next year.
Silencing Khan, 69, could backfire. He’s tapped into public frustration about a dysfunctional economy and a political system dedicated to dynasties and unelected power brokers. Khan’s party won local elections in Karachi and Punjab, the country’s most populated province.
Khan still has plenty of silent allies in the military, even if he’s fallen out of favour with Bajwa. Retired army personnel join pro-Khan demonstrations.
Akhil Bery, director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, said Imran’s conflict is with General Bajwa, not the military. The rank-and-file will support the chief, but they can also support Khan.
When Khan took power in 2018, he was attacked for being too connected to the military despite promising a “New Pakistan” free of corruption and nepotism. He lost establishment support after he fought with Bajwa about who should run Pakistan’s ISI.

Monday in Islamabad, Imran Khan’s supporters gathered outside his residence to avoid his arrest on anti-terrorism charges. | REUTERS
His decline coincided with Pakistan’s failing finances, prompting incoming Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to make tough choices to shore up foreign exchange reserves and combat record-high inflation. Unrest may affect Pakistan’s bid for $1.2 billion from the IMF, which may push more voters to Khan.
Khan’s fate could go beyond Pakistan. After losing power, he accused the U.S. of colluding with Sharif, who’s friends with European and American officials. During his tenure, Khan drew Pakistan closer to China and Russia, upsetting others who wanted a more balanced relationship.
A powerful army section looks to be prepared to remove Khan’s danger. Shahbaz Gill was accused of sedition and inciting military rebellion. Khan’s media and civil service allies report increased intimidation, and he accuses the government of limiting YouTube access to his lectures.
Unrest is possible. After hearing about Khan’s police complaint on Sunday, hundreds of fans formed a protective barrier outside his residence near Islamabad. His supporters claim detaining him is a “red line.”
Khan has considerable online support. People are openly criticising the powerful military establishment, says a Karachi university professor.
Hasnain Malik, head of equities strategy at Tellimer Dubai Ltd., said the “deep state” likely supports Khan or doesn’t want to box him in, forcing him to fight the military establishment from the outside.
Malik argued that Khan’s political awakening is part of a long-term process. The transition between institutionalised political standards is complex.

The Original Article published at The Japan Times