Imran Khan’s arrest and Nawaz Sharif’s return, how Pakistan’s politics changed in 2023


ISLAMABAD: For the past year, Pakistan’s politics have been operating like a movie, which includes everything from suspense to drama. Ever since the ouster of Imran Khan as the prime minister through a no-confidence vote in 2022, Pakistan has been facing a political crisis.
In April 2022, Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence motion. On May 9, 2023, Khan was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on charges of corruption. In 2023, 127 MNAs from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) resigned from the National Assembly. In August 2023, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar was sworn in as the eighth caretaker prime minister of Pakistan.
It was expected that the current political turmoil would end before the general elections. However, neither the political struggle in the cash-strapped country has stopped nor have elections been held so far.
Two major political developments that took place in Pakistan in 2023 were Imran Khan’s arrest and the return of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. These two major political events will decide the political future of Pakistan in the upcoming elections set to take place on February 8 next year.
After his ouster from power, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s former chairman Imran Khan had been making statements against the then-Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led coalition government.
On May 9, Imran Khan was arrested outside the Islamabad high court (IHC) in Pakistan. He was arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case after he had reached the IHC for two hearings, Pakistan-based Dawn reported.
Following Imran Khan’s arrest, protests took place in several parts of Pakistan. Violent clashes erupted between Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) workers and law enforcement agencies, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of PTI workers while several police personnel suffered injuries. PTI workers gathered at Liberty Chowk and started marching towards the cantonment areas.
The protesters broke the main gate of the corps commander’s house and shouted slogans against the arrest of Imran Khan. Videos that surfaced on social media showed workers breaking windowpanes, TV and furniture in the house and setting trees and furniture on fire.
The Pakistan military has described the events that unfolded after Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9 as a “dark chapter,” referring to instances that took place between protesters targeting army property and installations.
In a statement headlined “May 9 will be remembered as a dark chapter,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said, “We will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands.”
The Pakistani military said that these “miscreants” used public emotions to achieve their “limited and selfish” goals and deceived people while continuing to highlight the army’s importance for the country, Dawn reported. The Pakistani military described the behaviour as an “example of hypocrisy.”
Meanwhile, the National Security Committee (NSC) in the meeting convened under then-Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif, decided to observe May 9 as “Black Day” at the national level. After Imran Khan’s arrest, several senior PTI leaders, including Fawad Chaudhry, Yasmin Rashid and Chaudhry Parveiz Elahi, were arrested in Pakistan.
On May 11, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared Imran Khan’s arrest “illegal” and also directed for his immediate release, Pakistan-based ARY News reported. The major relief for the former prime minister came shortly after he was presented in court.
In August, Imran Khan was arrested again after the Islamabad trial court sentenced him to three years of imprisonment and imposed a fine of PKR 100,000 on him while hearing the ECP’s criminal complaint against him for hiding details regarding Toshakhana gifts. The court found PTI founder, guilty of “corrupt practices by hiding the benefits he accrued from the national exchequer wilfully and intentionally.”
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified former Pakistan PM Imran Khan for five years from holding any public office after his conviction in the Toshakhana case, Dawn reported. Later, the Islamabad high court overturned this sentence, Pakistan-based Geo News reported. However, former Pakistan PM Imran Khan was then arrested in the cypher case for which he continues to remain imprisoned in the Adiala jail.
In December, PTI elected Barrister Gohar Ali Khan as the new chairman in the intra-party elections held on the directives of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Geo News reported. Former PTI chairman Imran Khan nominated Gohar Ali Khan for the party’s top position. He won the elections unopposed.
The ECP had declared PTI’s intra-party polls ‘void’ and revoked its electoral symbol. However, the Peshawar high court suspended ECP’s order nullifying PTI’s intra-party elections, Dawn reported.
The second major political development in Pakistan was the return of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif. The former Pakistan PM returned to Pakistan after spending four years in self-imposed exile. He arrived in Islamabad, where he completed all legal and biometric formalities.
After meeting his family in Lahore, he then addressed a crowd of supporters in Minar-i-Pakistan. In November, the Islamabad high court acquitted Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield Apartments corruption case, more than five years after he was convicted by an accountability court before the general elections in July 2018.
The IHC also convicted him in the Al-Azizia case — one of the three references filed against him in light of the Panama Papers, Dawn reported. The court’s decision came despite a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) request for a re-trial, Dawn reported.
Following his acquittal in the two cases, legal experts believe that the PML-N supremo may become eligible to contest elections and make a bid for public office for the fourth time, according to the Dawn report.
Meanwhile, the PTI leaders have announced that Imran Khan will contest elections in three constituencies. In November, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) agreed to hold general elections in Pakistan on February 8 next year.
The ECP announced the decision after the meeting between Pakistan President Arif Alvi and Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja. The two sides held a meeting after Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa had ordered the ECP to discuss with Alvi the poll date after the electoral body said that elections would be held on February 11.
Major political parties, including Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), have welcomed the announcement of the general elections’ date and termed it as a ‘positive development.’ However, it remains to be seen whether the elections will be held as per the schedule and how free and fair they will be conducted