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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Receives 10-Year Prison Sentence Just Ahead of Elections

PoliticsFormer Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Receives 10-Year Prison Sentence Just Ahead of Elections

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday, marking the latest development in what appears to be a concerted effort by the military to sideline one of its prominent critics. The sentence, delivered in a case where Khan is accused of leaking state secrets, comes just a week before Pakistan is scheduled to hold its first national election since his removal in April 2022 through a vote of no confidence.

The upcoming election has been widely criticized by analysts, who deem it one of the least credible in Pakistan’s 76-year history due to the military’s extensive crackdown on Khan and his supporters. The political fallout between Khan, aged 71, and the powerful military, traditionally an influential force in the country’s politics, has plunged Pakistan into a year and a half of crisis. Khan and his supporters allege that military leaders orchestrated his removal, a claim vehemently denied by the military.

Despite the allegations and the political turmoil, Khan’s popularity has endured, and public discontent with the military has grown. Last May, unprecedented scenes unfolded as hundreds of protesters attacked military installations—an occurrence previously unthinkable in Pakistan.

The verdict on Tuesday was delivered by a special court established last year, which analysts believe is more aligned with the military’s preferences. Khan has labeled the trial a “fixed match,” implying a predetermined outcome, and his party intends to appeal the decision.

Taimur Malik, one of Khan’s lawyers, dismissed the sentence, stating, “This 10-year sentence won’t stand for 10 days before the appellate courts. Such brazen disregard of law and constitution has never been witnessed before.”

In a parallel development, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister and close aide to Khan, also received a 10-year sentence in the same case.

The sentencing occurs amid a contentious election cycle, where the military is perceived to be undermining Khan’s support to pave the way for a victory by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The military’s visible interference in politics has intensified, with arrests of elite figures expressing support for Khan and the barring of his party from using its iconic cricket bat symbol on ballots.

The military’s heightened involvement has prompted a robust public response, with videos critical of the repression circulating on social media. Khan’s direct criticism of the generals by name has fueled disillusionment among young people towards Pakistan’s political system.

Despite widespread discontent, the military’s influence in shaping politics has strengthened, leading to the widely perceived message behind Tuesday’s verdict: there will be no reprieve for Khan and his party. Asma Faiz, an associate professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, stated that the sentence “sends a message to Khan’s party and supporters that they should not expect any reprieve.”

Nonetheless, many of Khan’s supporters expressed outrage at the verdict, asserting that the repression has only galvanized their support ahead of the polls. Shabbir Ahmed, a PTI member in Lahore, declared, “Everyone in the country knows that all the charges against Khan are false and motivated by revenge. Khan’s supporters are politically aware now. They will seek revenge for all injustices against Khan through their votes on February 8.”

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