The Toshakhana Controversy: What Lies Ahead For Ex-PM Imran Khan? – OpEd


Following his retirement from cricket, Imran Khan assumed an active role in denouncing instances of governmental mismanagement and political corruption in Pakistan. To fight against these issues, he established a political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in 1996. This decision was made in response to perceived shortcomings in the existing political parties/government of Pakistan. Although Khan’s public image in Pakistan is widely recognised, the PTI’s early performance was very narrow and restricted. The same party was even unable to secure a single seat in the 1997 and 2002 general elections as a party, when its founder, Khan, only managed to win his seat. From this outcome, it is argued that the PTI’s political strategy and approach may have been inadequate or insufficiently appealing to the electorate during those election cycles. During the 2000s, the PTI maintained its position as an opposition party to the presidency of Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf had led a military government under the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML–Q) since the 1999 coup d’état.

The PTI chose to boycott the 2008 general election, citing concerns about fraudulent procedures under Musharraf’s rule. This decision was a critical move by the PTI, as it demonstrated their commitment to fair and transparent democratic processes. Thus, the PTI’s opposition to Musharraf’s presidency was rooted in their belief that his military government was not conducive to a democratic society. During the Musharraf era, the “Third Way” gained global popularity and gave rise to a new political bloc in Pakistan that prioritised centrism. This marked a departure from the traditional dominance of the centre-left PPP and the centre-right PML-N. However, it is critical to note that this new bloc’s deviation from the established political parties may have caused a fragmentation of the political landscape, leading to a lack of clear direction and a weakened democracy.

Premiership of Imran Khan (2018–22)

During its period in opposition, the PTI effectively galvanised public support through the use of popular slogans, including “Tabdeeli Arahi Hai” (meaning “change is coming”). This mobilisation was achieved through a series of rallies that were organised to address a range of national issues, including the 2014 Azadi March. The PTI’s efforts during this time were aimed at addressing public concerns and promoting a sense of unity and purpose among the Pakistani people. In July 2018, the general elections took place, in which Imran Khan’s political campaign focused on combating corruption and poverty, despite facing allegations of close ties with the military establishment.

In the 2018 election, Imran’s political party, PTI, emerged as the majority party, garnering more than 7.5 million votes. The party secured the second highest number of votes and the third highest number of seats, thereby, establishing its prominence in the political landscape. At the regional level, the political party successfully secured electoral victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. During the 2018 general election, the aforementioned political party garnered a record-breaking 16.9 million votes, thereby securing the highest number of votes.

Imran took the oath as Pakistan’s PM on August 18, 2018. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Imran Khan encountered a growing balance-of payments crisis. Despite economic growth, his term has witnessed a significant increase in imports and debt commitments, particularly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative. Shortly after assuming office, the crisis escalated as the US suspended the disbursement of $300 million in military aid due to Pakistan’s perceived inadequate efforts in curbing terrorism. Khan initially pursued assistance from “friendly countries” before considering an IMF bailout. This decision was influenced by the failure of previous IMF packages to address Pakistan’s macroeconomic issues and the public’s weariness towards the IMF. Moreover, he encountered resistance on the part of people, due to his proximity to the military, his efforts to suppress militants, and the precarious economic situation.

Major opposition parties established the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in late 2020. The PDM began protests against then-prime minister Imran Khan, who was widely held responsible for the country’s political, diplomatic and economic mismanagement. Several members of Khan’s own party, also joined the PDM. On the other hand, the government of Imran Khan insisted, however, that the corruption trials of the heads of the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were what inspired the movement. In addition, PTI leader Imran Khan claims that the opposition has never made a similar legal challenge to the elections as his own party did in 2013. He insisted over and over that the opposition wanted amnesty under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), despite their repeated denials of such a wish.

The PDM arranged protests and rallies alleging Khan’s subservience to the military and demanding his resignation. In March 2021, certain political parties abstained from a vote of confidence proposed by the government of Khan. However, he managed to narrowly survive the vote with the backing of his coalition allies. Subsequently, Khan’s relationship with the military establishment deteriorated due to his unsuccessful endeavour to manipulate its senior positions. In March 2022, due to persistent inflation, the opposition initiated a vote of confidence. Consequently, significant supporters of the PTI withdrew from the ruling coalition, and some members of the party also switched sides. On April 10, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be removed by a no-confidence measure following a vote.

Aside from these dynamics, corruption allegations against PM Khan have surfaced. One was related to the Al-Qadir Trust case, and the second was the Toshakhana case. The Al-Qadir Trust Case pertains to the establishment of the Al-Qadir University through the Al-Qadir Project Trust with the objective of providing quality education in the Sohawa Tehsil of Punjab’s Jhelum district. One more case against Imran Khan, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and associates Zulfiqar Bukhari and Babar Awan, in which he was accused of embezzling billions of Pakistani rupees from a real estate company.

The Toshakhana Case 

This case has generated more political vibrancy and instability in Pakistan. In August 2022, Pakistani politicians from the ruling party and coalition government filed the Toshakhana reference case against former Prime Minister Khan for failing to disclose information regarding gifts received from various heads of state and officially received by Toshakhana. The PDM referred the matter to the National Assembly Speaker, who subsequently forwarded it to the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan (ECP).

The Toshakhana case has resulted in accusations directed towards Prime Minister Khan, stemming from his purported failure to disclose pertinent information regarding gifts received through the Toshakhana. These gifts were not duly accounted for in his annual assets report that was submitted by him to the ECP. An inquiry was conducted by the ECP regarding the aforementioned cases. On October 21, 2022, the Commission issued its final decision, which resulted in the disqualification of Imran from holding any public office for a duration of five years. The decision to take action against Imran was made on the basis of evidence indicating that he had been involved in acts of deceitful behaviour, provided misleading information, and made inaccurate statements, as outlined in the reference document pertaining to Article 63(1)(p). The ECP issued a directive to forward the reference to the trial court for the commencement of criminal proceedings.

On September 8, 2022, Imran told by the ECP that he sold four gifts which he received as Prime Minister from foreign leaders. He resold these gifts amounting the price of Rs 58 million which included Rolex watches, a Graff watch, cufflinks, a ring, and an expensive pen. In the Toshakhana reference case, ruling coalition PDM lawmakers presented evidence to disqualify former prime minister Imran under Article 63, sections 2 and 3, and Article 62(1)(f). On October 2, 2022, the ECP stayed their Toshakhana reference decision due to Imran’s confession and the petitioner’s documentation. The ECP disqualified former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for five years on October 21 for violating Article 63(1)(p) by making false claims and declarations. The ECP requires the trial court to receive this reference to begin criminal proceedings.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested former Pakistani Prime Minister and politician Imran Khan from the High Court in Islamabad on 9 May 2023 for corruption related cases and violent demonstrations were followed by his arrest.  Eight people were killed in protests that erupted the day of his arrest in cities all over Pakistan, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. Anti-government protesters in Islamabad shut down a major road. Government properties were set on fires and street signs were torn down. The Peshawar protesters also arsonized the Radio Pakistan building. During the demonstrations, military installations and property were frequently vandalized. Such widespread unrest is unusual in Pakistan. Protesters repeatedly attacked and burned down the corps commander’s home in Lahore and the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi. At least one attempt at vandalising the ISI’s headquarters was made during the protests.

 What Lies Ahead for Imran? 

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was arrested in a dramatic fashion on 09 May, 2023 and was released from the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on 12 May. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared Imran Khan’s arrest to be unlawful and has issued an order for his immediate release. The military establishment has been offended by Imran Khan’s statements and stance, to the point where Imran Khan and his political movement under the PTI have been denied the right to freedom of expression by the current coalition government. Several commentators/government officials argued that he would be in deep trouble because he defied the army. His bitter enemies in the bureaucracy and the armed forces will soon have the opportunity to determine the political fate of him and his party.

At this moment, one can imagine only two scenarios for Imran and his party. He can be put in jail for some time, and in the meantime, elections will be conducted. Without his leadership, his party has a remote chance of winning the coming election. If he is in jail, he would not be able to contest the election, and even his party would not be able to perform well in the election. Currently, he is fighting against the establishment and accusing them time and again of a threat to his life. He is no longer in the good books of the establishment. Against this background, it is anticipated that his chance of being out of jail and winning the election will be remote. To be in politics in Pakistan, one has to maintain cordial relations with the establishment.

The other scenario is very positive, given his popularity. According to a nationwide survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan, Imran Khan, the former prime minister and current chairman of PTI, has garnered a positive popularity with 61% votes of Pakistanis, making him the most popular leader in the country. Therefore, one can argue that the support of the people is Imran Khan’s only source of strength and power. In this scenario, if he gets the chance to contest the election, he definitely has a positive and favourable chance to win the coming election. In this scenario, individually, it is good for Imran, however, the country is likely to see more challenges in terms of political protests, political instability, contests between the PTI and establishment, judiciary, government and establishment.  

Considering his previous position as prime minister, it is improbable that he will receive a lengthy prison sentence. The legal proceedings pertaining to Imran Khan’s case are likely to be protracted, spanning several years. During this period, Imran Khan will be required to engage in a legal battle to defend his case in court. Imran Khan’s arrest is expected to have a notable influence on the political landscape of Pakistan. The potential consequences of his arrest could be analysed as a potential weakening of the PTI and a subsequent increase in political instability. It is probable that the opposition parties will take advantage of this situation to rally their followers and call for the government’s resignation.

Imran Khan’s arrest has the potential to impact Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with other countries. The close alliance between Imran Khan and China has been instrumental in strengthening the ties between the two nations. This partnership is expected to continue to grow and evolve in the future. The potential arrest has the potential to negatively impact Pakistan’s economic and geopolitical interests, potentially straining relations with other countries.

The arrest of Imran Khan holds great importance in the political landscape of Pakistan. The future will play a vital role in determining the consequences of this event. The legal system now holds the key to Imran Khan’s future, and the verdict of his trial is likely to have significant implications for Pakistan’s political, economic, and diplomatic prospects.

Dr. Bawa Singh

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India

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