Political instability in Pakistan could lead to anarchy, experts warn

Former PM Imran Khan rejected police report on failed assassination attempt, will resume march to capital to demand early elections.

 People chant slogans as they condemn the shooting incident on a long march held by Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Wazirabad, Pakistan November 4, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)
People chant slogans as they condemn the shooting incident on a long march held by Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Wazirabad, Pakistan November 4, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party have rejected the police report about the failed assassination attempt on Khan during a protest march demanding early elections last Thursday.

On Monday evening, police in Wazirabad, where the incident took place, filed an indictment – known as a first information report (FIR) – against Muhammad Naveed, who was arrested on the spot, according to the police. Naveed allegedly fired on the container truck Khan was riding in, wounding him and some of his close aides, and killing one party worker.

He has been charged with terrorism, murder, attempted murder and plotting to murder.

Khan has rejected the report, however. He and the leadership of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have alleged that Naveed was only a puppet who executed the shooting plot devised by three powerful figures in the country.

The former prime minister has accused Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, federal Interior Minister Rana Sana Ullah, and a senior military officer, Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer, of orchestrating last week’s attack days after Khan and hundreds of thousands of his supporters set off on a march from the city of Lahore, Punjab’s provincial capital, to Islamabad. He has not provided any concrete evidence to back the claim, however.

 People chant slogans as they burn tires to block main highway during a protest to condemn the shooting incident on a long march held by Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Wazirabad, Pakistan November 4, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO) People chant slogans as they burn tires to block main highway during a protest to condemn the shooting incident on a long march held by Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Wazirabad, Pakistan November 4, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)

The current political chaos could lead to anarchy, as well as dire economic consequences for Pakistan, experts say.

The reactions to the shooting

Zubair Niazi, general secretary of PTI Lahore, lodged a written complaint to register a case against the three national figures that Khan has identified as ordering the attack.

The FIR against Naveed was registered after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the inspector general of the Punjab police to file an incident report within 24 hours.

On Monday, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial condemned the assassination attempt on Khan and said, “An attempt has been made to kill the national leader; the sensitivity of the matter should be understood.”

Faisal Shahkar, the police inspector general, told the high court that the Punjab provincial Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, an ally of PTI, was not letting him register the PTI’s case against the national figures.

“The delay in the registration of the case was due to the fact that the provincial chief minister does not want to register a case against Pakistan Army’s serving general. Meanwhile, Khan is repeatedly refusing to withdraw the name of Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer,” a senior official from Pakistan’s Home Department told The Media Line.

Khan, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, said: “On the issue of the farcical FIR, my lawyers will give my position. All my life I dreamt of seeing my country as a prospering welfare state and my struggle throughout has been to make this dream a reality for my nation. Today the nation has awakened, understood and risen.”

Khan further wrote: “I have stood in support of my message of justice, freedom and national sovereignty. Now that we are so close to our goal, no fear or threat of death can stop my struggle. The focus of our peaceful protests and dialogue is only for Pakistan’s true freedom.”

“I have stood in support of my message of justice, freedom and national sovereignty. Now that we are so close to our goal, no fear or threat of death can stop my struggle. The focus of our peaceful protests and dialogue is only for Pakistan’s true freedom.”

Imran Khan

Raja Tanveer Akhter, a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, told The Media Line that, at the high court's direction, “the Punjab Police has registered the case but, acting cleverly, left out the names of Khan’s suspects.”

He added, “As per the state constitution, nobody is above the law. After the registration of the case, if the investigating officer does not find any evidence during the inquiry, then he can declare the suspected person innocent.”

Fawad Chaudhry, PTI’s senior leader and a former federal minister, told The Media Line that the party rejects the FIR unless the names of the suspected officials are included in it.

“We would deem the FIR just a piece of paper and will not accept any distortion in the names,” he said.

He said that, due to the Supreme Court’s ultimatum, “a flimsy case has been registered which has nothing to do with the facts and events.”

He added that Khan has directed his attorneys to continue to work to register the report of the attack as it was written and said that the way the police have “lost evidence under unknown pressure is a cognizable crime. We will initiate a separate legal action against them.”

Chaudhry said the party’s leadership and workers “are standing by the side of their great leader Imran Khan with full determination,” and “those who defected from the party during the recent regime change were humiliatingly rejected by the people in the by-elections.”

He announced that the long march to Islamabad will resume on Thursday from the site of the attack on Khan.

Khan was discharged from Shaukat Khanum Hospital on Sunday and moved to his home in Lahore, where he has been holding daily meetings with members of his party to discuss the way forward.

Dr. Javaid Hayat, a seasoned political analyst and author based in Calgary, Canada who has an interest in the political situation in Pakistan and the region, told The Media Line that Khan had consistently defended his political narrative.

“The narrative is a discursive feature of any political movement. The success and failure of any people’s resistance movement for political or social change or regime change profoundly depend on a well-articulated narrative. For the last decade, Imran Khan has defended his political narrative against all odds,” Hayat said.

“Imran Khan is changing the landscape of Pakistani politics through his confrontational approach. The mafia, which considers itself above the law, now seems scared of Khan’s ideology,” Hayat added.

Hayat also said, “The political demonstrations will create political instability, which can lead to anarchy and dire economic consequences as inflation reaches an all-time high and, as a result, consumer buying power significantly decreases.”

Hayat noted that some powerbrokers in Pakistan do not believe that the current government is legitimate.

“There is resentment in the corridors of power resulting from how Khan’s government was toppled, and a cosmetic government was imposed, which lacks legitimacy and support from the people of Pakistan,” he said, adding that “therefore, it is in the interest of Pakistan to call for fresh elections, and only a government with a new mandate and legitimacy may bring stability to the country.”

Hayat said that PTI continues to be united behind Khan.

While there are some political differences and segmentation in the party, “by and large, it appears that PTI is united and standing behind Khan. The key source for PTI to stay united is Khan’s popularity, which was recently proven in the by-elections through which PTI has won more than 75% of seats.”

Umar Karim, a former visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London whose research focuses on Pakistan’s politics, told The Media Line that Khan had greater political capital and leverage “thanks to his populist rhetoric, even if still he is not as powerful as the country’s establishment.”

“With every passing day, the crisis in Pakistan is becoming intense and may eventually result in more violence and bloodshed. But with doubts now raised over the military’s internal cohesion, it’s difficult to say which stakeholder will come out as a winner,” he said.

Dr. Azeem Khalid, an Islamabad-based political scientist and an expert in international relations, told The Media Line that an assassination attempt on a former prime minister “cannot be taken lightly. The state of affairs is so abysmal that the high court had to intervene to register a case to formally open an investigation.”

“Undeniably, Imran Khan has emerged as a challenge to all three poles of the status quo powers in Pakistan, but as a prime minister he failed to make a good impression on the domestic political stage and eventually he was ousted through a well-managed political and democratic process,” Khalid said.

“The failed attempt on Khan’s life has worsened the existing political polarization in the country and deepened the economic and security crises in the country,” he added.

Khalid told The Media Line that more anti-government protests will follow, leading to a more “chaotic” situation. “However, the country can get back to normalcy only after the appointment of a new army chief and early elections as demanded by Imran Khan,” he said.

“It is the dilemma of almost all the developing states, that democratic institutions are not fully independent to operate. In Pakistan, in the longer run, ‘democracy’ can be the only cure for the long-standing disorders,” he added.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Asif Haroon Raja is a Rawalpindi-based political and defense analyst.

Contrary to other analysts, he told The Media Line, “Imran Khan has been playing one narrative after another since he was ousted from office.”

“Khan first played the US diplomatic cable conspiracy narrative to save his regime. Once he failed, he added the military establishment in his narrative by declaring the army chief an accomplice in the conspiracy and the new coalition regime as an imported government. It helped him, reversing his declining popularity and charging the emotions of his followers,” Raja said.

Raja also told The Media Line, “After his assassination attempt, seeing the volatile reaction of the people, a new but dangerous narrative was played up and the prime minister, interior minister and a senior military officer were named as possible suspects.”

“All narratives failed to achieve any of the objectives except for fomenting chaos and creating conditions for possible anarchy.”

Asif Haroon Raja

“All narratives failed to achieve any of the objectives except for fomenting chaos and creating conditions for possible anarchy,” he concluded.