The rise, and fall, and rise again of Imran Khan

Feb 12, 2024

Islamabad: When the government of Pakistan censored the media, the former Prime Minister… Imran KhanThe party posted campaign videos on TikTok. When police stopped his supporters from holding rallies, he held virtual meetings online.
And when Khan landed behind bars, his supporters gave speeches using artificial intelligence to mimic his voice.
KHANHis message resonated with millions across the country who were frustrated by the country's economic crisis and outdated political dynasties: Pakistan, he explained, had been in steep decline for decades, and only he could restore it to its former greatness.
The success of candidates aligned with Khan's party in last week's election – gaining more seats in parliament than any other – was a surprise upheaval in Pakistani politics. Since Khan fell out with the country's generals and was ousted by parliament in 2022, his supporters have faced a military-led crackdown that experts say could embolden the former prime minister. It was meant to be sidelined.
Their success marked the first time in Pakistan's recent history that the political strategy used by the country's powerful military to maintain its hold on power for decades had suddenly lost direction. It also proved how Khan's populist rhetoric and the rise of the country's internet-savvy youth are rewriting politics in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 240 million people that has been wracked by military coups since its establishment 76 years ago. Is struggling with.
Now as parties of both Khan and Nawaz SharifThe three-time former prime minister, in the race to win over other MPs and establish a coalition government, finds Pakistan in uncharted territory. If Khan's party is successful – an outcome that many analysts believe is unlikely – it would be the first time in Pakistan's history that a civilian government would be led by a party that is at odds with the military. And whose leader is behind bars.
Adam Weinstein, deputy director of the Middle East program at the Quincy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said that no matter the outcome, Khan's party “has proven that it is a steadfast political presence, tapping into the discontentment of Pakistan's youth.” Has been.” “Old strategies for shaping the country's politics are outdated; social media and youth mobilization have become game changers.”
The military has ruled the country directly for almost half of Pakistan's history. When civilian governments were allowed to come to power, they were led by a handful of leaders – including Sharif, Khan's rival in this election – who generally came to power with the support of the generals.
Those military-aligned leaders built political parties around their family dynasties, transferred party leadership from one generation to the next – and kept political power within a limited circle. But in recent years, as the country's youth population has grown to nearly half the electorate, analysts say frustration with the system has been growing.
Young people feel alienated from Pakistan's political system because “someone in the family will always get the top position,” he said. jaigham khan, an Islamabad-based political analyst. “The old parties are becoming obsolete because they refuse to change – and this has created a void for someone like Imran Khan.”
While Khan initially rose to political prominence with the help of the military, after his ouster he took advantage of young people's yearning for change to consolidate his political base independent of the generals. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, ran political campaigns on social media – beyond the reach of state censorship, which youth say sparked political awakening in their generation.
In the viral video, Khan criticized the country's generals, whom he blamed for his ouster in 2022. He described how the military acted like a “deep state” that controlled politics behind the scenes, and claimed that the United States had colluded with Pakistani officials on their ouster. He described himself as a reformer bringing change.
His message inspired youth across the country.
“I'm voting for change. I'm fed up with this whole system of political parties running the country,” he said. Osman SaeedThe 36-year-old stood outside a polling booth in Lahore on Thursday after casting his vote for PTI candidates. “They have put Imran Khan in jail – that's the main issue – it shows that all this is being managed by the establishment,” he said, referring to the military.
Some of these voters remembered the dissatisfaction of Khan's last months in office, when his popularity had fallen due to rising inflation. Many analysts say that if he had been allowed to complete his term, his party might not have won the next general election.
But even after his ouster, the country's military leaders appeared to underestimate the country's changing political situation. As Khan made a political comeback, the generals played their old tricks to sideline him.
Authorities charged Khan with dozens of charges, resulting in four separate convictions, totaling 34 years in prison. They arrested hundreds of his supporters and – for the first time – cast a wide net going after the country's elite class, even Pakistanis with close ties to the military itself.
That campaign of intimidation only appeared to increase support for Khan. Because this action was widely publicized on social media, it exposed the public to the heavy hand of the military in politics. Many who voted for Khan's party last week said they did so to anger the generals.
Now, in the political tussle to form a new government, the military is facing widespread allegations of vote-counting tampering and Khan's party has promised a long, painful court battle to challenge dozens of the results, he says. That the army has rigged the case. On Sunday, thousands of Khan's supporters took to the streets across the country to express anger over allegations of election fraud – with protests drawing police batons and tear gas.
“PTI is a peaceful party that has started a revolution through the ballot,” Hammad Azhar, head of the party in Punjab province, said on the platform known as X (formerly Twitter). “We will not let our struggle be ruined by nefarious designs.”
Political conflict has left the country – whose history is littered with military coups and mass unrest – on edge. Most agree that while the election results reflect how many Pakistanis reject the country's broken political system, Pakistan is still not moving towards greater stability or a stronger democracy.
“Even if the balance of power is tilting in favor of political parties, will they actually act democratically themselves?” said Bilal Gilani, executive director of Gallup Pakistan. “Or will they become more fascist in their ideologies? Will they oust the people who didn't vote for them? That's the question now.”

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