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Pygmy State: Political Pundits, Lawyers Weigh on Imran Khan’s Arrest

Areesha Rehan

In a shocking turn of events, Pakisan-Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan was arrested by paramilitary Rangers from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) premises, where he had arrived for hearings in two cases on Tuesday.

Following the arrest, Islamabad police released a statement quoting Inspector General (IG) Akbar Nasir Khan as saying that Imran had been arrested in relation to the Al Qadir Trust case, which alleges that the PTI chief and his wife obtained billions of rupees from a real estate firm for legalising Rs50 billion that was identified and returned to the country by the UK during the previous PTI government.

Meanwhile, the party has claimed that Imran was tortured at the time of arrest, following which protests have erupted across the country. reached out to political pundits, journalists and lawyers to weigh in on the manner of the arrest and its implications.

Bad optics

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii said that “the biggest problem with today’s arrest is the optics. In response to Imran Khan naming an army officer as part of a conspiracy to harm him, we see a coordinated parroting of vilification from the government.

“The next day, we see a paramilitary force which does not legally have any power to arrest, lay siege to the filing section of the high court and ham-fistedly taking Imran Khan into custody. We see a handpicked NAB chairman’s arrest order for a case which has somehow made its way ahead of the dozens of other cases against politicians.

“All of this makes for miserable optics: if you try to see the forest for the trees, you will clearly see the workings of a Pygmy state; beholden to unelected overlords. This man is a former prime minister and is, according to every poll, the most popular politician in the country. The violent and alarming images surrounding Imran Khan’s arrest would be more familiar in an occupied territory. But perhaps that’s exactly what we are as a country.”

Lawyer Rida Hosain echoed Jaferii’s thoughts. “The manner in which Imran Khan has been arrested is distressing for every believer in the rule of law. Nothing justifies the disproportionate manner in which the arrest was carried out. Hundreds of Rangers [personnel] assembled, windows were broken, and a former prime minister was dragged out of court premises to secure an arrest.”

She too questioned the role of the Rangers and whether this manner of arrest could even be considered legal. “The government must clarify whether it called the Rangers in aid of civil power. Even so, there is no justification for scores of Rangers [personnel] in uniform to be sent to carry out the arrest.”

For his part, Journalist Zarrar Khuhro tweeted a stark warning for those who were in favour of such an arrest. “Politicians or any civilians who stand for this should know that, as is always the case, those actually in power can and will turn on you too. Always have, always will. Ultimately all civilian powers must unite on basic principles, as impossible as that seems. If not, be assured you will all sink sooner or later.”

He went on to term the arrest “pure blind rage and vengeance”, pointing out the ‘absurdity’ of calling in the Rangers.

Legal or not?

Questioning the grounds of arrest, Hosain continued: “The second question is under what circumstances can an accused in a NAB investigation be arrested. Section 24 of the NAB Ordinance states that an arrest warrant may be issued if an accused is intentionally not joining the investigation after repeated notices, the accused is attempting to abscond, there are sufficient grounds for tampering with evidence, or there is credible information regarding repetition of offence. It would not appear that any of the above circumstances arise in this case.

There are days which serve as a stark reminder of how little Pakistan has progressed. Today is one of them.“

Laywer Mirza Moiz Baig pointed out that Imran’s arrest could “hardly be viewed with a legal lens alone, terming Pakistan an “authoritarian state”.

“In a state like ours, the state’s power to use violence and restrict an individual’s freedom is often used to punish politicians and leaders who have lost the establishment’s favour. Without prejudice to the merits of the case against Imran Khan, his recent arrest can hardly be viewed with a legal lens alone.

“Even when viewed from a legal lens, the arrest appears derogate with the judgment rendered by the supreme court in the Khawaja Salman Rafia’s case, where it held that arrests before conviction are an aberration given the serious erosion of fundamental rights that it entails.

“Additionally, the court in that case had alluded to accountability laws being used for political engineering. While the PTI government had preferred a review against the afore-noted decision in 2020, its leader now appears to have been embroiled in the same web of political engineering, thus showing the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

What goes around comes around

Journalist Shahzeb Jillani, meanwhile, said that Imran was getting a “taste of his own medicine”.

“It’s a case of ‘what goes around, comes around’. As prime minister, Imran Khan used state institutions, NAB and FIA to jail and victimise his critics and opponents. Today, he is getting a slight taste of his own medicine.

“Still, the manner in which he’s been arrested from the premises of the Islamabad High Court is deplorable. If the case against him for abuse of authority and corrupt practices is strong, he must be dealt with fairly and according to the law.”

Meanwhile, political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi recalled the use of state institutions against politicians in the past:

Crossing a red line

Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre, Michael Kugelman, termed the arrest a “huge escalation in a long, ugly crisis”. He also pointed out that the arrest came following Imran’s reiteration of allegations against military officials.

Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha warned that “there’s no coming back from this”.

“The ‘red line’ has been crossed,” he said.

c. Dawn


Cover photo: Ex-Pakistan PM Imran Khan being taken away by a horde of security personnel outside the Islamabad High Court. (Source: PTI/Twitter)

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