Since his ouster as prime minister in 2022, Imran Khan has played a high-stakes game of challenging Pakistan’s powerful military. Now it’s reaching a breaking point.
Khan’s dramatic arrest by dozens of paramilitary rangers for graft triggered protests that left at least eight people dead and hundreds injured, risking more spasms of violence in a nation struggling to pull back from economic collapse.
By detaining the former premier, Pakistani authorities have drawn a line in the sand: Khan is an outcast in the eyes of the state, including among former army allies, and many are increasingly ready to bear the consequences of stopping him.
Though Pakistan’s top court ordered Khan’s release, calling the nature of his arrest illegal, and the Islamabad High Court later granted him bail in the land graft case, the former leader’s fate is far from certain even as he’s seeking preemptive bail in the dozens of other cases he faces.
His detention marks a climactic moment after months of bitter public sparring with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government and the military. The political crisis comes as Pakistan is grappling with its worst economic crisis in years.
Though the military was seen as instrumental in bringing Khan to power in 2018, relations soured in late 2021 when Khan tried to block the removal of a favoured general from his post as head of its spy wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Pakistan’s military has long held sway in the country, ruling directly for 32 of the 76 years since independence and backing many of its civilian regimes.