“Quiet Acceptance: Former Pakistani PM’s Arrest Marks a Shift in Public Response”

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When former Prime Minister Imran Khan was apprehended over the weekend on charges of corruption, a notable absence of public outcry was observed.

Unlike a few months ago, when the 70-year-old was detained from an Islamabad court complex on May 9th, triggering widespread protests and clashes between his supporters and security forces, the recent arrest failed to stir significant demonstrations across the country. This time, authorities were well-prepared as Khan was sentenced and taken to a prison in Attock city. His destination remained confidential, and several decoy convoys were reportedly employed to confuse the media. Enhanced security measures were enacted in major cities, with police and military personnel on high alert, leading to preemptive detentions.

Both Pakistan’s ruling party and the military interpret the subdued response to Khan’s arrest as an indication of waning public support for the former PM. Conversely, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party and his backers contend that a swift and rigorous crackdown has forced them into silence. Furthermore, the BBC has learned that media outlets were instructed to avoid covering PTI’s activities or mentioning Khan’s name on air after the mass protests in May.

Since May, thousands of Khan’s supporters have been apprehended, with plans to subject them to military court trials, a move criticized by human rights organizations as contrary to international law. The PTI has also been systematically weakened, as numerous party members have been arrested or are embroiled in legal proceedings. Khan himself faces around 200 cases, while several PTI members have defected or withdrawn from politics entirely.

Ali Akbar, a senior political analyst, attributes the lack of response to Khan’s calls for protests to the fear of arrest and the absence of leadership within the PTI.

Many PTI supporters have chosen to stay silent due to fear of police action, both online and offline. Fatima, a PTI supporter, recounted receiving an anonymous warning about her Twitter activity, prompting her to delete her account to avoid potential arrest.

Others voiced concerns about the risk of arrest and the potential for violence associated with protests, citing the incidents that occurred during the May demonstrations.

Nonetheless, many PTI supporters continue to stand behind Khan and the party, albeit quietly. This “silent support” remains evident, as the PTI recently won a by-election by a notable margin in an area where it had previously lost. Analysts suggest that anti-establishment positions tend to gain traction in Pakistan’s political landscape.

While Khan was initially seen as an ally of the establishment when he assumed power in 2018, his relationship with the establishment deteriorated, leading to his ousting.

Despite the challenges, numerous PTI supporters, including Naheed, remain steadfast in their allegiance and intend to vote for Khan and the party in the upcoming general election, projected to be held later this year.

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