The Irish Times view on the convictions of Imran Khan: a politically-motivated process

His removal from the election leaves arch-rival and three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as a clear favourite to return to power next week

On Tuesday a Pakistan court sentenced former cricketer Imran Khan to ten years in jail for waving a diplomatic cable at a public rally in 2022 shortly before he was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence vote. The cable purported, probably correctly, to show his removal from office was the result of a conspiracy involving the US, the then-opposition, and the army. All denied as much.

Yesterday Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were jailed for 14 years for illegally profiting from State gifts. Not surprisingly, he claims the cases are politically motivated and said he will appeal.

The latest act in the prolonged tussle between populist Khan and his supporters and the country’s powerful military, long the invisible hand guiding its politics, is not really about protecting state secrets, but widely seen as an attempt to further discredit Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party ahead of next week’s general election.

The military, at one time a key supporter of Khan’s, has been involved in widespread harassment of PTI supporters. Khan, the country’s most popular politician, has already been languishing in jail, debarred from standing for office. His party, which has also been barred from using its iconic cricket bat symbol to identify its candidates on ballots, has described the cases as " bogus.”

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His removal from the election leaves arch-rival and three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as a clear favourite to return to power next week. Sharif was himself removed from office in 2017 and convicted of corruption, returning to Pakistan only in October after years in self-imposed exile. The sympathetic courts recently allowed him to run again just as Khan lost that right.

But the jailing is likely to prompt widespread protests, like those after his ousting last April which saw crowds unprecedentedly attacking military bases. Widespread social media criticism of the army, outside the reach of the military’s censorship machine, also reflect a growing disillusionment with the country political system

Khan’s is down but not out - another political innings is yet possible.