With Imran languishing in jail, PTI struggles to find a credible face

After Khan was arrested from outside the Islamabad High Court on May 9, PTI supporters and workers took to the streets in massive numbers

Imran Khan (photo: Getty Images)
Imran Khan (photo: Getty Images)


As former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is still languishing in jail, his political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is surrounded by challenges in the absence of a chief.

The party's top leadership along with its hardcore supporters have seen a major clampdown against their leader and the entire PTI large since the military establishment and the state decided to not spare anyone involved in the May 9 riots and vandalism.

After Khan was arrested from outside the Islamabad High Court on May 9, PTI supporters and workers took to the streets in massive numbers.

The outburst of angry PTI supporters and leadershi, resulted in incidents of riots and vandalism, attacks on GHQ (General Headquarters) Rawalpindi, the Core Commander’s Residence in Lahore and other military installations in major cities.  

It was then that the military leadership teamed up with Khan's political arch-rivals in the then government to launch what is being termed as a dismantling campaign against PTI, arresting thousands of party workers.  

The intensity of the all-out cleanup operation by authorities resulted in departure of majority of PTI leaders, who held press conferences and narrated identical lines to leave the party, condemn the riots and distance themselves from politics.

While Khan was out on bail for a while, his legal challenges gained more momentum and he was arrested again from his residence in Lahore after being convicted by a trial court in Islamabad in the Toshakhana corruption case.  

The former premier was accused by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for misusing his 2018-2022 time in office to unlawfully buy and sell gifts in state possession that were received during his visits abroad that were worth more than 140 million Pakistani rupees (PKR). 

Since then, Khan has been behind bars, initially in the Attock jail and now in Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi.

Khan, rated as the country’s most popular politician, was accepted as a one-man force.

With Khan and top PTI leaders currently in jail, the party is left with almost no one to represent its narrative in public or even on television screens. 

“You see lawyers representing PTI in television debates. This is because there is no one else left but the legal team of Imran Khan in public. PTI supporters have been traumatised to see the reaction by the military establishment and the state against them, something they never even dreamt of. Now they are all in hiding, or have been arrested, or will be arrested,” said senior political analyst Ansaar Abbasi. 

“Despite the worst condition for the party, Imran Khan remains as the most popular leader in the country and surpasses figures like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari,” he added. 

In a latest survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan titled “National Public Opinion Poll Report”, Khan is still popular among at least 60 per cent of the country’s population, while politicians in general and Parliament have lost their credibility, falling to less than 40 per cent support among the masses. 

“A political party needs a leader that leads from the front. PTI’s face was and is Imran Khan. Now he is in jail and may not be coming out soon, at least not before the next general elections,” said senior political analyst Javed Siddique

"And with other leaders like Shah Mehmood Qureshi and others behind bars as well, the PTI doesn’t have any leadership. The fear that persists among the PTI supporters of arrests, keeps their voices silenced. And as time will more further, and if Imran Khan doesn’t come out to public, these voices will also fade away… this is what seems to be the intent behind establishment’s anti-PTI and anti-Imran Khan policy."

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Khan is irreplaceable in PTI and his support among the masses seems to be intact.

This also implies that there is not future for PTI without Khan, which may just reflect into the reasons for its demise and elimination from the political race of the country in the future. 

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Published: 30 Sep 2023, 5:20 PM