Pakistan is on the brink. It has virtually drifted under an alleged military-lead fascism. The situation in Lahore’s Zaman Park neighborhood is explosive after the Punjab police stormed the residence of former prime minister Imran Khan, while he was in Islamabad to attend a court hearing. Khan’s wife, his sister, and her husband were among a few people at home at the time of the raid, unprecedented in the country’s history and in violation of a court order.
Video footage viral on social media showed hundreds of police in riot gear mercilessly beating Khan’s personal staff inside his home. The police broke the main gate of khan’s residence, damaged property, and arrested his personal staff and close relatives.
Khan, who has condemned the raid, announced a political rally for Wednesday, March 22, at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan park. In an emotional address to his supporters, Khan condemned the police action and urged the judiciary to hold the government accountable for violating its orders.
Khan said his wife was alone at the time of the police raid. “The assault on my house today was first of all a contempt of court. We had agreed that an SP with one of our people would implement a search warrant bec we knew otherwise they would plant stuff on their own, which they did. Under what law did they break the gate, pull down trees,” Khan said in a tweet thread.
The assault on my house today was first of all a contempt of court. We had agreed that an SP with one of our people would implement a search warrant bec we knew otherwise they would plant stuff on their own, which they did. Under what law did they break the gate, pull down trees pic.twitter.com/110uTeIlce
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 18, 2023
“This is state terrorism,” said Shireen Mazari, a known human rights activist and former minister in Khan’s cabinet at a press conference after the police raid. Khan’s close confidante Fawad Chaudhary, Hamad Azhar, who also addressed the press conference said the raid was illegal and amounted to contempt of court as Lahore High Court had extended Khan’s bail in 9 of the at least 94 cases hours earlier. They said the police staged the raid to “recover illegal weapons” from his residence to institute new cases against him. “We will stay peaceful but we will protest vehemently,” said Azhar.
The government, allegedly installed by the military, enforced a media blackout during Khan’s court appearance in Islamabad, during which police attacked, lathi-charged and tear-gassed Khan and his supporters. Dozens of PTI workers were arrested both in Islamabad and Lahore. The military, which initially had vehemently denied its involvement in politics, has virtually stopped defending its role in recent weeks.
Massive crowd support has helped Imran Khan force Pakistani establishment to blink again – Judge allowed Imran Khan to leave after marking attendance outside the court complex. pic.twitter.com/EhmPpF6XX9
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) March 18, 2023
It has become the government’s ongoing practice to ban programs and television channels that give coverage to Khan. “Fascism at its worst,” said Khan in Tweet on March 18 after the media faced yet another state clampdown.
Strongly condemn govt trying, through PEMRA, to muzzle our voice through an illegal ban on us, violative of court order, on TV channels. Now to pressure media further, PEMRA has issued another notice accusing TV channels of violating their earlier. notice. Fascism at its worst.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 18, 2023
Khan has been receiving unprecedented public support during his court appearances. Thousands have joined him each time he goes to the court. Khan insists that the rulers want to jail him so as to create political space for the ruling alliance to win elections, which are due on April 30th in Punjab.
Am grateful to masses that came when I went for my court appearance. Everyone knows ruling cabal of crooks has only one aim, to jail me any which way till elections are over. Already 96 cases on me & am sure after my appearance today I will hit my first century of court cases. pic.twitter.com/S9u9PHs1SQ
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 18, 2023
The government has launched a brutal crackdown on PTI, arresting hundreds of his workers across the country, and continues to deny him an opportunity to run an election campaign for the Punjab elections. Conversely, Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of the convicted and absconding former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and herself a convict for lying to the court, has been given a free hand to run her election campaign under state patronage.
The military, its Inter-Services Intelligence and scores of state agencies are being accused of running a systematic campaign to bring down Khan who has emerged as the country’s most popular leader, heading Pakistan’s largest political party. He enjoys the support of more than 60 percent of Pakistani voters, even by the most biased public opinion polls.
Khan accuses the country’s military of being part of a “London Plan” under which he will be eliminated or disqualified and jailed so that Nawaz Sharif can return to power in exchange “for an important appointment”. The reference is widely believed to be to General Asim Munir who was promoted to the COAS position on the advice of the absconding Sharif who lives in his palatial apartment in London without any accountability by the UK government regarding the sources of his income to buy the apartments worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The UK is known for harboring Pakistani leaders who are wanted in serious cases in Pakistan.
Analysts agree that Pakistan is in turmoil because Khan is demanding early elections but the government of Shahbaz Sharif is resisting, with the tacit backing of the military which has refused to provide security to the elections. The military’s refusal to offer security to the electoral democratic process itself is a violation of the country’s constitution. Sharif’s government, a cocktail of more than a dozen political parties cobbled together by the military, has the worst record of corruption, human rights, press freedom, civil liberties and economic mismanagement. The rupee has depreciated by 60% since it was installed by a military-lead conspiracy last April, sending the economy in a tailspin.
Inflation has hit an unprecedented 45% with millions slipping into poverty while the rulers mercilessly rob the exchequer. The government is yet to meet one of the demands of the International Monetary Fund, which has asked Sharif to cut down his cabinet size of almost 90 ministers and advisers to 30. Sharif himself is known for financial corruption. He was to be arraigned in a money-laundering case the day he took office last year.
According to Shabbar Zaidi, who once headed the Federal Board of Revenue in Khan’s government, for the first time in history the federal government’s entire revenue is being used in debt servicing. “This means all expenses, including defense, met from borrowing,” he said in a Tweet.
For the first time in history, whole of Federal Government’s income is being used in debt servicing.This means all expenses, including defence, met from borrowing.This is an alarm bell. Why politicians, elite, media & masses sleeping? Corrective actions before it becomes too late
— SyedShabbarZaidi (@SShabbarZaidi) March 19, 2023
Overseas Pakistanis are worried and furious
The police raid on Khan’s residence sent shockwaves among overseas Pakistan. If one word could describe their sentiment would be “furious”. Hundreds of British Pakistanis staged a noisy protest near 10 Downing in London on March 18. One of the organizers was Shayan Ali, a student who has emerged as a known critic of Sharif government. “If I can stand against the Sharif mafia at 17, so can you! I promise I will never let my generation bow to anyone!,” Shayan tweeted.
Biggest turnout ever! Downing Street was packed with chants against Nawaz Sharif! pic.twitter.com/bOceQgbvZr
— Shayan Ali (@ShayanA2307) March 18, 2023
Shayan also handed a petition to a representative of the Brisith Prime Minister’s office seeking London’s attention to the gross human rights violations and the role of the absconding Sharif sitting in London unchallenged and unaccountable.
Urgent petition filed to the Prime Minister of the UK against Nawaz Sharif and others who are involved in the “London plan” which could kill Imran Khan and destroy democracy pic.twitter.com/54KnPsLQPs
— Shayan Ali (@ShayanA2307) March 18, 2023
The sentiment of the Pakistani diaspora in the United States is no different. Several community organizations in the US are urging Washington to hold Islamabad accountable for human rights violations and democracy. Last week, Pakistan American Political Action Committee sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on human rights violations.
I urge the international community to address the issue of Political and human rights violations in Pakistan
— Imran Ali (@DrEmranAli) March 12, 2023
Biden administration, which is known for its proactive policy on human rights and civil liberties, is yet to respond decisively, except for calling “restrain” by the government and Khan. However, there is a growing concern in Washington about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s deteriorating political, security and economic situation. It came up during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing as well where CENTCOM chief General Michael E. Kurilla expressed confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear assets. “I am confident in their nuclear security procedures,” he told the committee.
General Kurilla’s statement came amid reports that Pakistan might be under pressure to compromise on its strategic assets in return for the IMF bailout. The Foreign Office, however, later vehemently denied that Pakistan’s nuclear program was on the agenda with any “government, any financial institution or any international organization.”
Pakistani-American organizations are pressing the Biden administration to press Islamabad on human rights, civil liberties and a crackdown on free speech and association. More than 500 Pakistani-American physicians signed a letter for US lawmakers, expressing their concerns about threats to the safety of Imran Khan.
“We are writing to urgently bring to your attention the critical situation in Pakistan. The safety and well-being of millions of citizens, including our families and loved ones, are at risk due to the current government’s human rights violations, suppression of dissent, and threats to the safety of former PM Imran Khan,” says the letter the physicians wrote.
Breaking news: Bilawal has had his most productive US trip!
He will be serving as DHL carrier and personally delivering a letter from 500 Pakistani American doctors to Aunt Sherry and Uncle Asim. 👏 https://t.co/iH4dmxPkUF
— Aaina Saaf (@AainaSaaf) March 17, 2023
Another community organization, Pakistan American Political Action Committee contacted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to convey their grave concern over gross human rights violations in their country of origin. It urged the Biden administration to take notice of the grave human rights violations happening in Pakistan.
“We are writing to express our concerns about media reports on the current situation in Pakistan that violate human rights and democratic principles that we hold dearly as Pakistani Americans in the United States,” said PakPAC National Board in a letter to Secretary Blinken.
Some voices in the US Congress have also started reverberating. One of the most prominent critics of Pakistan’s ongoing crisis inside the Beltway is US Congressman Brad Sherman who raised concerns over the “continuous violation of human rights and democracy in Pakistan” and called upon the government to ensure freedom of speech and the application of rule of law in the country.
Sherman is a Democrat representing California’s 32nd congressional district. He tweeted that he spoke over the phone with former prime minister Imran Khan and met Dr. Asif Mehmood, a Pakistani philanthropist and Democratic candidate running against Young Kim in the state’s 40th congressional district. Mehmood lost the hotly-contested seat last November.
In a video message shared by the PTI on Twitter, Sherman, standing alongside Dr. Mahmood said: “America must support democracy and human rights around the world and particularly in Pakistan.”
“It is not the role of the United States to involve itself in Pakistan’s internal governmental matters with respect to Pakistan’s constitutional and democratic process. But we must not shy away from raising our voices for human rights and democracy in Pakistan or anywhere else.
“The Government of Pakistan and every government should respect the right of people to speak, the right to organize, the right to demonstrate,” he said.
In Washington DC, PTI supporters staged a fairly large demonstration on Sunday, March 19, to condemn the police raid on Khan’s residence. They were carrying placards and raised slogans against the Sharif government.
— Zafar Cheema PTI USA official (@ZafarCheemapti) March 19, 2023
پاکستان میں مظالم پر سمندر پار پاکستانیوں کی وائٹ ہاؤس امریکہ میں احتجاجی تقریر
A Protest speech at Whitehouse America of overseas Pakistan on brutalities in Pakistan pic.twitter.com/qXYR0fxSCE
— Zafar Cheema PTI USA official (@ZafarCheemapti) March 20, 2023
The demonstration was addressed among others by senior Pakistani journalist and analyst Dr. Moeed Pirzada. He urged Pakistani Americans to raise their voice about the situation in Pakistan at every forum. “Contact your elected representatives and Senators to build pressure on the government,” he advised Khan supporters.
This video is emblematic of the problem PTI is facing in USA. Bonus points for those who can point it out.
— ali (@y2raza) March 19, 2023
Pakistani community members are also deeply concerned about the crisis. “They have to arrest or kill him. They can’t face him in an election. It’s a fight for survival for the mafia,” said one Virginia-based doctor while referring to Khan’s challenges.
“So what exactly is Khan demanding?,” asks Hicksville, Long Island-based Sami. “He is demanding the rule of the law, constitution and continuation of democracy through free and fair elections. I don’t see anything illegal; in such a demand,” he adds.
More than 95% of Pakistani Americans upon contact condemned the Sharif government and blamed Pakistan’s military for the crisis because of its assertive political role. Traditionally, Pakistan’s military has been revered and respected by overseas Pakistanis but the goodwill and respect is fading at an unprecedented pace. “Pakistan will be fixed the day Generals are held accountable for their unconstitutional actions,” Sami added.
Pakistanis abroad are not alone who are worried about Khan’s safety. Well-known British politician, broadcaster and writer George Galloway also took to social media to express his frustration at the situation in Pakistan. He appealed to the establishments in London and Washington to use their good offices to save the life of Imran Khan “not just because this noble brave man deserves to be saved but also because Pakistan will become completely uncontrollable if Imran Khan is murdered.”