Conor Moore | Staff Writer
Two months following the arrest of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country is still reeling from the political fallout.
Protests, riots and wide-scale violence have been sweeping the country since.
In response, FIU’s Jaffer Center for Muslim World Studies hosted a webinar discussing the ramification of Khan’s sudden but-not-unprecedented legal troubles.
Moderated by T.J. Liguori, professor of international relations and politics, the event would feature international relations and politics professor Iqbal Akhtar, University of Illinois professor Shahbaz Gil and Franklin & Marshall college professor SherAli K. Tareen.
Gil opened the panel by stating Pakistan is a “democracy in transition” while noting Imran Khan’s actions while in office.
Khan, a former cricket player and celebrity superstar who served as Prime Minister from 2018-2022, founded his own political party and successfully ran to be Pakistan’s prime minister after decades of involvement in politics.
Under his tenure, Pakistan was notable for a highly successful COVID-19 policy, as well as economic achievements that boosted his and Pakistan’s profile on the world stage as an emerging power in South Asia.
“Pakistan was among the two, three countries in the world that handled Covid really well, with the economy regaining trust and quickly grew following the pandemic,” said Gil.
While his leadership was not without criticism, he was still beloved by his supporters, with Ahktar even mentioning how opponents to Khan utilize this admiration as a tool against him.
“They frame him and his supporters as a cult. This is a very, very common trope used insidiously by actors in Pakistan, and are serious moves to empty his politics of anything productive.”
Regardless, his removal as Prime Minister and eventual arrest the following year sparked protests and violence across the country, with brutal reprisals by the military-led government.
In his discussion of the events, Tareen had choice words regarding the country’s current state of affairs.
“Pakistan is effectively under martial law. The ruling regime has deliberately discarded the popular will of the people,” said Tareen.
“The paradox of the whole situation is this, that the more that the military elite and the ruling regime expands its power through violence and brute force, it exposes and highlights its moral fragility, and highlights the power and persuasiveness of Imran Khan’s discourse.”
Pakistan’s military controls nearly all facets of its government with Khan’s removal from power being just the most recent example of the military’s might.
In fact, the group that arrested Khan was not an official entity within the official Pakistani military.
In the US, the conception of the “deep state” is a disputed belief relegated to conspiracy circles, but in Pakistan, it is a consistent political reality.
Gil concluded by speaking of the efforts Pakistani-Americans have made in bringing awareness to the dismal situation.
“They have an understanding about democracy, real democracy, human rights, and understand free media and speech. I believe they are raising their voices to champion free speech and democracy, as well as rule of law, and they have been doing that to the best of their ability.”