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Pakistan: Imran Khan complains of 'total crackdown' on party

July 15, 2023

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces almost 180 cases of wrongdoing, he told DW's Conflict Zone. He said the upcoming elections could be delayed, and refuted claims he had been too friendly with the Taliban.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan believes his party could be barred from the next electionImage: imago images/Russian Look

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he faces scores of legal cases after being ousted from office last year and fears he'll soon be back in jail.

"Till the age of 70, I didn't have one criminal case. And in the last few months, I have almost 180," he told DW's Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian.

Khan has previously said the cases against him are politically motivated, aimed at sidelining his leadership and dismantling his party before the country's next election, due in October or November.

"My entire party leadership is underground or in jail. And about 10,000 of our workers are in jail right now. So, there's a total crackdown on my party," Khan told DW from Lahore.

Khan's troubles began with parliamentary vote

Pakistan has been mired in a political crisis since parliament voted Khan out of office in April 2022. 

A countrywide crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was launched in the aftermath of violent protests that followed Khan's brief arrest in May 2023, which led to military installations being ransacked. 

Several of Khan's key aides remain under arrest and many others are in hiding. 

The government and military insist the cases against them are being brought on merit.

Khan, party face poll ban

Khan now faces the prospect of being disqualified from the upcoming election, and said it was unclear whether his party would also be barred from participating.

"Even if I'm in jail — I think they will sooner or later put me in jail — will they allow my party to contest the elections?"

Khan told DW he fears the government may delay the election. "They might go against the constitution ... because of the fear of losing," he said.

Human rights crackdown 'inherited'

Khan later downplayed accusations of human rights violations during his four years in office from 2018 to 2022, insisting: "My time was liberal, [the] judiciary was never interfered with, the police were never told to victimize people."

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is interviewed by Tim Sebastian for DW's Conflict Zone broadcaster on July 14, 2023
Khan was interviewed from Lahore by Tim Sebastian for DW's Conflict Zone Image: DW

Human rights lawyers and activists have accused Khan's government of trying to sabotage the country’s independent human rights watchdog to prevent accountability for abuses and oppression against opponents, which he denied.

"Ninety-five percent of the cases against all political opponents were inherited by us, not initiated by us. We were merely trying to pursue the same cases which we inherited," he told DW.

"You cannot compare what is going on right now; our best journalists hounded out of the country, murdered […] people are being picked up in the middle of the night."

General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 and ran Pakistan under martial law until 2008, "was liberal compared to what is happening right now," Khan added.

Taliban ties sparked concern in West

The former world-class cricketer was then asked about Pakistan's relations with neighboring Afghanistan and in particular, the Taliban, who seized power in Kabul in August 2021. Khan has been accused of having too cozy ties with the Islamic militant group.

"There have been 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan, and whenever there's a conflict in Afghanistan, it spills over into Pakistan's tribal areas," he said. "My top priority is the people of Pakistan. What is good for our people is peace in Afghanistan."

"It's not up to me to start moralizing about other countries [...] We don't look upon Afghanistan as the Taliban government or the [Ashraf] Ghani government. We look upon them as the Afghan government. Whatever government is there, Pakistan should have a good relationship with them."

Edited by: Sean Sinico