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Roving Periscope: Jailed Imran cocks a snook at the Pak army and govt–twice in two weeks

Roving Periscope: Jailed Imran cocks a snook at the Pak army and govt–twice in two weeks

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Virendra Pandit 

 

New Delhi: Riding a sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, when her son Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress won a brute majority, winning 413 of 543 Lok Sabha seats and crushing the Opposition, the media took it upon itself the responsibility of a credible rival to the government.

It challenged the arrogant government, exposed several scams like Bofors, and stripped Congress of its single-largest party tag forever.

Nearly 40 years on, something similar is happening in Pakistan.

For the February 8 elections to the National Assembly, the all-powerful Army is currently supporting its foe-turned-friend, Mohammed Nawaz Sharif, against a friend-turned-foe Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi. His political outfit is all but non-existent, its leaders have mostly fled or been put behind bars, and his candidates’ nominations canceled, making them unable to contest the polls.

So, the media—within Pakistan and without—seem to have joined hands with technology to keep Imran Khan afloat in the turbulent politics of the terror-infested Islamist country. That is how Imran, 71, has flummoxed Islamabad twice in two weeks.

Late on December 17 evening, a Sunday, he suddenly ‘delivered’ a stirring four-minute speech to his supporters across Pakistan using an audio clip generated through artificial intelligence (AI) to address a virtual rally – the first event of its kind in the South Asian country. The clip was laid over a video containing his AI-generated image as well as photos from his previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) rallies and speeches.

On Thursday, again, he irked the government by ‘contributing’ an article in the British daily, The Economist, titled:  “Imran Khan warns that Pakistan elections could be a farce.”

Flummoxed, Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solanki, a former journalist, said on Friday the government would approach the media outlet over the publication of a  “purportedly written” scathing write-up attributed to Imran Khan, and questioned its editorial judgment and the credibility of the content, the Dawn reported.

Raising serious doubts over whether the scheduled February 8 polls in Pakistan will be held as announced, Khan in the write-up reiterated his “engineered” removal from power in April 2022 by the establishment “under pressure from America” and the lack of “level playing field” in the elections.

The write-up has already been denied both by the Pakistan government and the US Department of State.

Khan, against whom the government clamped over 150 cases since his ouster, is incarcerated for three years at the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, after his conviction in the Toshakhana corruption case.

It is puzzling and disconcerting that such an esteemed media outlet published an article in the name of an individual who is in jail and has been convicted, Solangi said.

“We believe it is critically essential to uphold ethical standards and promote responsible journalism,” the paper quoted him as saying.

“We would like to know how the editorial decision was made, and what considerations were taken into account regarding the legitimacy and credibility of the content by The Economist,” he said.

“We would also be interested to know if The Economist has ever published such ghost articles by jailed politicians from any other part of the world. If jailed convicts were free to write to the media, they would always use the opportunity to air their one-sided grievances,” the minister said.

Khan, in his piece, also reiterated his allegations about how a regime change brought about after US government pressure led to a vote of no-confidence against him in April 2022 and described the May 9, 2023, riots as a “false-flag operation” which was “pre-planned.”

The Dawn newspaper reported that while sources within Khan’s party were hesitant to comment on how the writing may have been relayed to the publication from inside prison, they had insisted that the words were indeed those of Khan.

Some observers had expressed doubts over whether the article was indeed written by Khan but many noted that its tone and content were consistent with his views.

While expressing fears that the election scheduled for February 8 may not take place at all, Khan stated that even if they do, such polls would be a “disaster and a farce since PTI is being denied its basic right to campaign.”

“Whether elections happen or not, the manner I and my party have been targeted… has made one thing clear: the establishment — the army, security agencies, and the civil bureaucracy — is not prepared to provide any playing field at all, let alone a level one, for PTI,” he said.

Khan also criticized the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement-led government’s performance, saying it “destroyed the economy, bringing about unprecedented inflation and a currency devaluation within 18 months.”

He also hit out at the courts, who in his words “seem to be losing credibility daily”, referring to the easy exoneration of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Khan claimed that Nawaz “has struck a deal with the establishment whereby it will support his acquittal and throw its weight behind him in the upcoming elections”.

After his removal from office in April 2022, Khan went on an international media blitz and appeared on several major global media outlets, but this stopped after his incarceration, as access to the PTI chairman became limited to his lawyers and family members.

 

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