The writ of the state

Imran’s challenge succeeded


The state might claim to have won, for the week-long confrontation between PTI chief Imran Khan and the state machinery ended with his submission on the point of confrontation, with his appearance before the sessions court in Islamabad which had issued the original warrants for his arrest. However, Imran might also have claimed to have won because he had shown the state that he was not just a doll of straw to be picked up, but a force to be reckoned with. His arrest was not impossible, but it was not simply a matter of a police constable appearing outside his door. The civil power was not enough it would need military might to take him.

- Advertisement -

At the end of the day, he had evaded that which it had been his aim to avoid, and the reason why he had defied the borders of the court: he had not been given the indictment, and he had thus not entered a plea. The Toshakhana case remained where it was; stuck. Once the indictment is read out to him, and he answers the charge or charges against him, the trial can proceed, even in his absence.

Imran is thus trying to do what Gen Pervez Musharraf failed to do when on trial for high treason: prevent the indictment and plea. It might be remembered that General Musharraf had done his best to stop it, including by holing up in the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. However, ultimately, he came to court and received the indictment. The trial then proceeded.

Musharraf had been scheduled to appear before the Special Court on 2 January 2014, when he had gone to the AFIC. He did not appear until 21 February. Not until April 30 was he indicted, having previously moved an appeal against the Court’s jurisdiction.

He appealed to be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment, which was allowed by court, with the result that on 18 April 2016, he left the country, never to return. That did not stop the trial, though, he was declared an absconder in May. The verdict of guilty was announced on 19 December 2019. However, the Lahore High Court ruled that the Court that tried was not properly constituted, and its sentence was struck down, on 19 January 2020. The Lahore High Court judge3s were Messers Justices Mazhahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, Ameer Hussain Bhatti and Ch Masood Jehangir. Mr Justice Naqvi has since been elevated to the Supreme Court, and has been identified as one of the speakers in a leaked audioclip, the other being former CM Ch Pervez Elahi. Mr Justice Bhatti is currently Chief Justice of the Lahore /8High Court, and his son-in-law was a PTI MPA. Mr Justice Jehangir retired in 2022.

Imran seems caught in a bind. His defiance of the state may be his only way of returning to his control of it. But that defiance means that he may not return to much of a state to control. The real danger for Imran then is that he might have set a precedent. Is his defiance based on the same exceptionalism that the USA exhibits? Which he has decried so much to such resounding applause?

Mr Khan seems to be showing why he is so insistent on early elections, which he sees as a path to returning to office. He seems to realize that possession of power means untouchability. All that has been revealed of his misdeeds in office, such as the Toshakhana scandal, the Punjab transfers and the KP health department scams, were only uncovered after his fall from power. Considering that he claims as his mandate the ending of corruption, his voter support should have fallen once the smears had been made against him.

The coalition must concede that the voter considers them as corrupt or corrupter than Imran. The smear against them has succeeded to the extent that corruption is no longer an issue. The voter might have also been left cold by the defiance of the state. The state remains as it was in the Raj: oppressive.

- Advertisement -

Imran’s opponents claim he defied the state; his supporters said that he asserted his rights. However, the freedom from the depredations of the executive does not mean freedom to defy the judiciary. Narrowing it down, the power of the executive is to make accusations which force the judiciary to pass orders. Imran wanted blanket bail, which was not granted. The judiciary could and couldn’t. It could only give bail if the executive had taken the initiative of registering a case. He was given bail in cases he could identify.

It was perhaps symbolic that the Islamabad court before which Imran appeared, was exercised by the loss of the paper he had signed to register his presence. The judge had to record testimony that he had appeared. He has been summoned again for March 30, but there will be discussion on the maintainability of the court first. Imran may once again avoid the indictment.

The Musharraf treason case provides an appropriate example, where the defendant tried to put off the indictment as much as possible. Imran’s defence team might have noted that the trial proceeded to a verdict even in the defendant’s absence after the indictment was given to the defendant. The argument of the defence on maintainability may well be with an eye to the future, as a ground to appeal conviction.

It is not so much that Imran fears conviction because he fears going to jail, though that is a consideration, as the fact that it might lead to him being disqualified under Article 63 (1-h), which says that someone convicted for an offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced to two years imprisonment, has remain ineligible for five years after his release. That means that if Imran serves less time, so long as the conviction and sentence takes place, he is out.

There is another hurdle coming up, that of the Tyrian White case, going on before the Islamabad High Court. There Imran is said to have failed to declare his daughter on his earlier nomination papers. He has taken the plea that he is a private person, and need not explain himself. However his claim rests not just on his having resigned from the National Assembly, but on not being a candidate anywhere else. He had withdrawn fr4om the recent Rajanpur by-election, some say because he wished not to affect the maintainability argument. That seems to mean that unless the court settles the maintainability issue first, Imran might find it problematic to contest in any constituency.

Whatever the results of those two cass, there will be more. With the Punjab Assembly election due on April 30, Imran is being denied the freedom to campaign. This is a significant obstacle for a party that depends so much on its leader. In principle, Imran should avoid wasting time, as he did not only at Zaman Park last week, but at the Islamabad Judicial Complex. It might be a heady feeling, to take on the state and win, but it will not help win control of that state.

One of the advantages that Imran’s defiance of the state has is that it appeals to the schoolboyish partiality towards having authority laid low. However, adults should remember that an important reason for the British takeover was that they restored order. It is sometimes forgotten that one important reason for the East India Company’s imposition of order was post-mughal disorder. So long as the Mughals managed to preserve order, it didn’t bother. Only when the disorder interfered with its making money, did it get involved in government.

Imran seems caught in a bind. His defiance of the state may be his only way of returning to his control of it. But that defiance means that he may not return to much of a state to control. The real danger for Imran then is that he might have set a precedent. Is his defiance based on the same exceptionalism that the USA exhibits? Which he has decried so much to such resounding applause?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

ATC declares Zaman Park search warrant ‘infructuous’

LAHORE: The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Lahore on Tuesday declared a police search warrant for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan's Zaman Park residence "ineffective". ATC...