Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, a development that comes less than two weeks before the country’s elections. Alongside Khan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the vice-president of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and former foreign minister, received the same sentence.
The sentences were announced inside Adiala jail, where Khan has been held since his August arrest under numerous court cases. His party asserts that these cases are orchestrated to block his political comeback.
The convictions of Khan and Qureshi are linked to allegations of leaking classified state documents. Khan’s tenure as prime minister, from 2018 to 2022, ended following a no-confidence vote, which he attributes to a conspiracy involving the US and Pakistan’s military leadership.
Khan’s arrest in May last year led to unrest, prompting a crackdown on PTI, resulting in defections and some leaders going underground. This clampdown and the recent sentencing have been criticized by human rights activists and political analysts as unjust, predicting an increase in Khan’s popularity and sympathy among the public.
PTI’s presence in the public sphere has significantly diminished in the run-up to the elections. The party has been stripped of its election symbol, with its candidates forced to run as individuals.
Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, head of a rival political dynasty, has returned from self-imposed exile, with his convictions being dissolved in the courts. This development is seen as an indication of Sharif being the preferred candidate of the military, which has historically exerted significant influence over Pakistan’s politics.
The delayed elections, constitutionally mandated to be held within 90 days of parliament’s dissolution in August, have been attributed to the need for redrawing constituency boundaries. Pakistan is currently under a caretaker government, perceived as compliant with the military establishment.