Imran Khan's chances of regaining power narrowing: Financial Times
Coverage of the 70-year-old politician has been reduced in practically all media outlets in the nation.
During an interview with the Financial Times on Thursday, Imran Khan said that the Pakistani government's crackdown on his political party has caused him to be increasingly isolated and that all the events that have happened so far are intended at delaying the elections until the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is wiped out.
"Right now it’s a question of survival," he told the Financial Times. "To put it in cricketing terms, when you lose early wickets, you just put your head down and stay on the crease. You don’t play any flamboyant shots rights now. All we can do is survive this unprecedented crackdown."
"Any supporters, our entire leadership [are] in jail, the rest are all hiding," he said. "So I’m at the moment quite isolated because I can’t get in touch with anyone."
The country's army has for long dominated Pakistani politics, something which Khan has brutally criticized and said that the country is under "undeclared martial law." He blames the army-backed government for delaying the elections which he believes are intentionally being done so to avert an electoral victory for the former cricket superstar.
"They will only hold elections when they think that my party is crushed. And that’s what’s going on right now," Khan said. "If there are elections we would win."
Commenting on the military-backed government, Khan said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's government realizes that "without the backing of the military establishment they are gone."
"In fact, they are going along with this undeclared martial law because they are scared of elections," he added.
According to a report by Geo News, some of PTI's leaders and members attempted to flee the country over the past three days and have been stopped at the airport. It further stated that Khan is preparing to apply for political asylum in the US, as per allegations made by the Special Assistant to Prime Minister Faisal Karim Kundi.
An army spokesperson vowed a crackdown on all "planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators" of the violence. Options Khan is facing include jailing, nudging him into exile, disqualification from politics, and the possibility of allowing him to proceed to the election seems unlikely.
Some former PTI members and leaders said their troubles with the army only ended once they agreed to abandon the party. "I doubt if people will forgive Shehbaz Sharif and his government," one of them said. "It is not clear who will lead Pakistan in the future. Right now, the government is unpopular and it’s hard to tell if they will succeed."
Coverage of the 70-year-old politician has also been reduced in all media outlets as some media executives observe that "Imran Khan has disappeared from the TV screens."
"We cannot use his name or that of his party," they added.
Some of the former PTI exiles have managed to form a new party to rival the PTI, the Istehkam-e-Pakistan party led by PTI former general secretary Jahangir Tareen.
According to Bilal Gilani, the executive director of pollster Gallup Pakistan, the army is intentionally encouraging rivals such as the Istehkam-e-Pakistan party to weaken the PTI's support.
"Among the chattering classes, the perception is that the PTI is finished," Gilani said. Khan "could lose a lot of political power despite being very popular."
From the point of view of Sharif's government, the PTI and its leader are now considered a passing fad.
"Imran Khan’s rise was mainly due to his presence on social media," said Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh, a member of parliament from Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. "Once his popularity ended, lots of people along the grassroots will look for an alternative. The PTI just had a very short-term existence."
However, some experts have warned that Khan might make an unexpected comeback. Qaiser too believes that the crackdown "is completely against the culture of this country" and "so there’s a big backlash also coming . . . We just have to weather the storm. I don’t think this can last."