World

We are used to seeing political infighting in Pakistan but the fate of Imran Khan and ensuing unrest is raising major concerns across the region and as far afield as the UK.

The dramatic pictures of a heavy-handed paramilitary operation to seize the former prime minister have guaranteed worldwide attention along with his global fame as a former cricketer.

The glamorous playboy, who led his country to victory as captain of the national cricket team, was as well known for his exploits in the nightclubs of London’s West End as he was for his prowess as a sportsman.

But he gave up all that for the devout life of a Pakistani politician dedicating himself to a second act pursuing a career of public service.

The sight of the 70-year-old dragged down the street by a mob of baton-wielding body armor-clad paramilitary goons has provoked outrage and guaranteed the eyes of the world are now firmly fixed on Pakistan.

Its reputation for due process of law is under scrutiny like never before. And the unrest could not come at a worse time for the country with an economic crisis creating tinder-dry conditions for a major political conflagration.

The arrest has provoked nationwide unrest, destruction of property, multiple arrests and at least one death. That violence has prompted the UK and US to call for adherence to the rule of law.

Khan has been locked for a year in a war of words and political struggle with both the Pakistani government and the military intelligence complex. The latter is often regarded as the real power behind the politicians in Pakistan.

He was elected, it is thought, with the backing of the military in 2018 but fell out with the generals and was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April last year. He has since been fiercely critical of both the military and government, demanding snap elections and accusing them of running scared.

The government comprises members of Pakistan’s most powerful political families, names well known in the UK.

Bilal Bhutto Zardari is the Oxford-educated foreign minister and son of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is brother to three times elected former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Critics say politicians, generals and spooks are responsible for a corrupt carve-up of power that leaves millions of Pakistanis impoverished.

Read more
Imran Khan’s journey from playboy to prime minister
Police file terrorism charges against Khan
Petrol bombs thrown and shots fired at Pakistan police

Pakistan has fallen victim to the same harsh economic headwinds sweeping other Asian countries. The political instability and unrest comes at a time of economic crisis and hardship that is likely to further inflame tensions.

The UK has strong immigration, economic, diplomatic and trading ties with Pakistan.

More than a million and a half people in Britain are of Pakistani descent. An unstable Pakistan is a worry to the UK government hence its early calls for calm.

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Khan lawyer says arrest was ‘state abduction’

Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country that has close security links with the UK too.

Its allies will be watching, too, hoping the current upheaval passes soon.

Khan’s popularity, his direct challenge to Pakistan’s corrupt power structures and the combustible economic backdrop will be giving cause for concern in Western capitals.

But a major showdown seems likely between Khan’s followers and the country’s ruling elites.

Western governments will be urging the latter to tread extremely carefully.

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