Imran Khan’s political journey in Pakistan has been truly remarkable. In a country where two families and the army have dominated the political system (backed by the US), he established a new party — Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) in 1996 — became Prime Minister in 2018, and created a mass movement for reform in 27 years.
The new party was reminiscent of the first Turkish Islam-orientated parties, with an emphasis on justice, welfare, and independence. Ironically, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself was imprisoned for four months and banned from politics for life in 1997, before his AK party reign in power began in 2002.
Khan, the former cricketer who became a legend playing for his country, could have chosen a lucrative career as a cricket commentator and brand marketer. He was never going to be wanting for money. Being married to Jemima Khan, daughter of the wealthy Goldsmith family, with whom he has two sons, he could also have enjoyed a happy family life.
However, he first chose a career in charitable works by opening the Imran Khan cancer hospital — formally titled the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre — and then a political career dedicated to reforming Pakistan, even sacrificing his marriage to Jemima and his sons for the cause. Few people in Pakistan would make such a sacrifice.
Charity, politics, and crusade against autocracy
For much of the last 27 years, he has pretty much been a lone outspoken crusader against the Pakistani autocracy and its foreign policy, an opponent of the US-led war against Afghanistan and drone strikes, calling for political settlements of problems, not war.
In the 1997 and 2002 elections, only Khan himself was able to win a seat for his party, and the PTI boycotted the 2008 elections. He seemed to be going nowhere. However, by 2013, the PTI was claiming that it had 10 million members, making it one of the largest political parties in the world.  It was in 2013 that the PTI came of age in party politics, winning 7.5 million votes and coming third behind the two dynasty parties.
An evolving nation
The country was also changing. A younger population was now becoming politically active. They sought a message of hope, better governance, and an end to domestic terrorism which had caused great suffering and death among people. Khan’s mass rallies captivated voters, honing in on popular issues in the country, and the message of “Tabdeeli Arahi Hai” (change is coming), and Azadi (freedom and independence from external domination).
And the two dynasty parties were already tainted with charges of corruption and had lost the trust of the people. Despite being charged with corruption and exposure of assets overseas, Benazir Bhutto was pardoned and charges against her dropped in 2007, so she could contest elections in a deal widely believed to have been brokered by the US with General Pervez Musharraf.  It was referred to as a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a political deal to drop charges by Musharraf. These days, it is referred to as NRO1. The more recent clearing of corruption cases against the Sharif family members — so they can contest the next election — is being dubbed NRO2.
Imran Khan sweeps into power
In April 2016, the Panama Papers exposed the secret offshore companies and properties of Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, and his son-in-law. 
The allegation of corruption led first to the disqualification of Sharif from the office of Prime Minister (July 2017) and then a ban from politics for life (April 2018), and eventually a 10-year conviction for corruption.
Imran Khan and the PTI were able to make anti-corruption a rallying call in the 2018 election and swept to power with 16.9 million votes. But they were only able to govern in alliance with five other parties. And within the Pakistani system, some key powers are devolved to the regional governments, so Khan never had the majority in parliament, nor did he have control of all the regions in order to make meaningful changes to implement his reforms.
Nawaz Sharif may well have escaped serious consequences for corruption, as politicians tend to in Pakistan, but he fell out with the military around the same time. This was exposed by the Dawn newspaper leaks of an official internal memo — where the army and civilian government rift on who should be tackling terrorism and the fear of isolation by the US and the West — was exposed to the public.  The Sharif family claim they were innocent and subject to a political vendetta by the military, but the circumstances of Imran Khan’s removal and incarceration, ban from politics, and an internal cypher highlighting the US agenda against Khan (now leaked), does feel a bit like Groundhog Day in Pakistani politics.
Politicians pledging to tackle corruption in Pakistan is not new, even army generals like Musharraf pledged to do so. Yet corruption is so entrenched in the Pakistani political, public, media, judicial, and military sectors that in practice there will always be great resistance to change. At the political level, that corruption is intimately linked to US military aid, IMF/ World Bank loans, as well as relationships and gifts from Gulf rulers, and development contracts.
Imran Khan was serious about reforms and Naya (New) Pakistan, tackling corruption, ending the war against Afghanistan, and particularly adopting an independent foreign and domestic policy. In 2018, there was no-one else for the army to back, so they accepted someone whom they never really expected to get huge support.
In 2021, the Pandora Papers revealed 700 Pakistanis whose wealth had been identified offshore, Khan had pledged to investigate and bring people to account.
But few in Pakistan believe that the army generals wanted the real change that Khan wanted to bring. They merely tolerated him for a while.
However, when the courts allowed Nawaz Sharif to leave for London for medical treatment in November 2019, that was a sign that the dynasty would be back soon, and Khan’s days were numbered. The generals would have moved to remove Imran Khan from office earlier, except that he seemed to be getting on with Washington — President Donald Trump wanted Khan’s help to get the US out of Afghanistan and reach a deal with the Taliban. 
Also, during his three-and-a-half-year period in office, over two years were spent dealing with the Covid pandemic. It would make no sense to remove him during that period. However, the grounds were being prepared for his removal with a propaganda misinformation campaign in the Pakistani media — with an opposition alliance known as the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) founded in September 2020 — focusing on how badly the economy was being managed under the PTI.
Imran Khan’s isolation by the US
Out with Trump, in with Biden
The real change in Khan’s fortune came when Joe Biden was elected as President of the US in January 2021.
The Biden administration set about isolating Khan because of his warm relationship with former US President Donald Trump (who had even offered him help on the Kashmir issue). Relations between Pakistan and the US further deteriorated in August 2021, when the Taliban took power, unexpectedly forcing the US and Western states to flee in chaos.
The US blamed Pakistan for co-operating with the Taliban in what was widely seen as a humiliation for Biden and the US. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Khan was given the cold shoulder by Biden, and the two do not appear to have spoken to each other. And yet military aid, which is a lifeline for the Pakistani generals, had been cut under Trump.
Nevertheless, Khan was determined to follow through on his independent foreign policy path; he would not accept the use of airspace in the country to be used against Afghanistan, nor in the future in the new US-led Western Cold War to destabilise China and Iran.
Khan was very much his own man when it came to foreign policy, often citing China as a model of how to tackle poverty and end corruption in a country, calling for recognition of the new government in Afghanistan, and above all refusing to commit to continuing with US airbases Pakistan.  He was also developing good relations and trade with Iran and had even started to broker peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“In interview to HBO, PM says country’s territory cannot be used for strikes inside Afghanistan.”
Imran Khan, US threats, and removal
With Prime Minister Khan already re-orientating Pakistan towards a changing multi-power world and different foreign policy for the benefit of his country, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that would lead to his downfall.
The dates of events are significant and point to a US/ army/ PDM collusion to remove him from power.
|24 February 2022
|Russia invades Ukraine.
|24 February 2022
|Khan arrives in Russia and meets President Putin in a prearranged meeting, unaware that the invasion would take place that day. The purpose of the meeting is to secure discounted oil and wheat supplies.
|01 March 2022
|In a rare move, 22 mainly European nations ask Pakistan to support a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
|06 March 2022
|Khan refuses to condemn Russia and calls out Western double standards. He responds by saying, “What do you think of us? Are we your slaves … that whatever you say, we will do?” Pakistan maintained neutrality and abstained from the UN vote. 
|07 March 2022
|We now know from the leaked cable (cypher) that this was the date of the infamous meeting between the Pakistan ambassador to the US and two US State Department officials including Donald Lu. The document is classified as secret but available for anyone to download.  It is obvious from the memo that Lu and the Pakistani ambassador were already aware of a plotted no-confidence vote which had not even been submitted to the National Assembly. The memo makes it clear that Pakistan’s isolation from the US will only end if Imran Khan is not PM; otherwise, things could get much more difficult.
|08 March 2022
|Representatives from opposition parties file a no-confidence motion against Khan in the National Assembly, seeking to remove him from office, accusing him and the PTI of poor governance, mismanaging the economy, and foreign policy blunders.
|17 March 2022
|Some 20+ PTI MNAs (Members of the National Assembly) announce that they are switching sides at Sindh House. The individuals allege that they were bribed, while others claim they were intimidated into doing so.
|29-30 March 2022
|The opposition alliance wins the no-confidence vote in parliament.
|09 April 2022
|Khan is removed as PM after just three-and-a-half years in power, having not even completed a full term in office. Shehbaz Sharif—brother of Nawaz —whilst still mired in corruption charges, becomes the new PM.
Imran Khan; back to the people
From the day Khan was removed from power, anyone who knows about Pakistani politics could predict the two dynasties’ and generals’ autocracy would do everything in their power to prevent him from contesting the elections scheduled to take place by November 2023.
Initially, the army claimed they were “neutrals” in the struggle between political parties, but as the PTI rallies got bigger and popular support for Khan skyrocketed, and with the PDM unable to counter it, that pretence had to be dropped.
It has become clear that the generals have always been behind the attempt to destroy Imran Khan and PTI support, and to prevent him from running in the next election, which he would almost certainly win by a landslide. Polls from May 2023 suggest that Khan and the PTI have around 70% of popular support behind them. 
A fully-fledged military dictatorship
The last 18 months have seen Pakistan being turned into a military dictatorship with a fig leaf of democratic politics. Meanwhile, its economy has descended into a crisis much worse than during the PTI’s term in office, once again being propped up by the IMF, China, and Gulf states.
To go into detail about the tyranny unleashed on the PTI, Imran Khan, and almost anyone who supports them would require someone to write a book.
- Large protests are now virtually impossible in Pakistan.
- Overseas British Pakistanis are being threatened and some claim abuse.
- PTI workers in their thousands have been locked up, violated, with even women abused.
- Leaders have been silenced or forced to leave through incarceration, intimidation, and threats to them and their families.
- Popular journalists who oppose tyranny have been silenced: Arshad Sharif was killed, Imran Riaz Khan disappeared into a black hole.
- The country is under martial law in all but name, with military courts being established and the media and social media of the PTI disrupted (some claim with the aid of external countries).
Khan hit with a century of criminal charges
Whilst Shehbaz Sharif, his son, and Maryam Nawaz (Nawaz Sharif’s daughter) have had much more serious cases of corruption dropped by the National Accountability Bureau after the body was reformed (the head of whom is also a retired general), Imran Khan has had assassination attempts made on his life, and over 100 criminal cases lodged against him, including everything from terrorism to blasphemy to corruption.
Khan’s home has been raided and he was unlawfully kidnapped by military rangers from a courthouse, imprisoned, threatened, and then released.
Eventually, he has been found guilty of flouting the rules on the declaration of gifts for MNAs without a fair trial or due process, or even a chance to present his defence. Khan was sentenced to three years in prison and banned from politics for five years, effectively taking him out of politics. With his PTI party and leadership virtually destroyed, the elections have effectively been rigged in favour of the next generation of the dynastic parties taking power: Maryam Nawaz or Bilawal Bhutto. Whilst London backs the Sharif clan, Washington favours the Bhuttos.
The case against Khan involved the Toshakhana. This was a Mughal-era name for the public gift depository, Persian for the “Treasure House”. When Mughal emperors received or visited one another, gifts were exchanged. They would be deposited in the Toshakhana, and the emperors would use them as gifts for others whom they visited or were visited by. The emperors had higher state goals and visions they achieved through them.
Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh have adapted this system for modern usage, allowing MNAs to deposit gifts in the public treasury. If the MNA then wanted to buy the gift back, they could do so at 15 per cent of the valuation price.
When Khan came to power, he increased the price to be paid to 50 per cent. Whilst I find the Pakistani Toshakhana rules ethically repugnant, they are perfectly legal in Pakistan. If Imran Khan is to be investigated and charged for them, then surely so should every previous Prime Minister and many ministers (especially now that the government has had to make the declarations public under pressure—all gifts received and bought by ministers dating back to 2002 are now public).
Is this Imran Khan’s last stand?
Despite all the attempts to smear and eliminate Imran Khan by the Pakistani generals and the Sharif/ Bhutto families, he remains the most popular politician in Pakistan and the one on whom most people pin their hopes for a better future.
He also remains more trusted than all the other political leaders. All attempts to destroy him simply seem to make him more popular. Nor is he prepared to back down or go into exile. It is not Khan who is in the dock, rather he has put every Pakistani institution on trial. So far, the weight of evidence against them all—from political parties, democracy, the army, the judiciary, the media, and the police—is that they are thoroughly rotten and corrupt, not fit for purpose, easily intimidated, manipulated, and prone to injustice. They have all lost any credibility and legitimacy they had.
Of course, ordinary Pakistanis already experience this every day. Now it is in the open for all of the world to see. The tragedy for Pakistan is there is no institution to hold them all to account for their crimes, and when that happens, the people usually resort to revolutionary justice into their own hands.
The extent to which the Pakistani generals have gone and might go to bring an end to Imran Khan and his party perhaps indicates that they are not alone in this venture and the benefits being promised to them are worth the risks. Perhaps the US administration does not want someone who has an independent foreign policy and mind to come to power in Pakistan. The silence of the US, UK, and Western politicians is telling.
When Imran Khan asked European nations “Are we your slaves?”, he forgot there were people in the army and politics who would answer yes. Pakistanis, like the people of Latin America and Africa, will learn that tackling corruption and poor governance is intimately linked to tackling US and Western influence in their lands. You can’t tackle one without the other.
I do not know if Imran Khan will get another innings. What I do know is he has woken and inspired the next generation of Pakistanis who will ultimately bring an end to this rotten two-dynasty-army rule in Pakistan.