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Pakistan's government vows harsh steps against rival Imran Khan


In Pakistan, political tensions are running high.


Yeah. You could almost say Pakistani politics are continuously tense - a history of coups and protests and executions and insurgencies and movements. But this latest episode is distinctive. The government has been investigating a former prime minister, Imran Khan. They've accused him of corruption even as he tries to reclaim power. His party has staged protests, which have continued up to now, prompting talks this week that the government could outlaw Khan's party.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid is following this story in Islamabad. And she joins us now. Good morning.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK. So tell us what's happening right now.

HADID: Well, the Pakistani parliament is meeting today to discuss the political situation. But as Steve mentioned, local media suggests that they'll consider outlawing the party that's headed by the former prime minister, Imran Khan. And that comes after clashes last week between Khan supporters and security forces when police tried to arrest the former prime minister. And there were clashes again on Saturday outside the courts in the capital, Islamabad. And since then, there's been mass arrests of Imran Khan's supporters. And one of Khan's close allies is a fellow called Taimur Jhagra. He's a former provincial finance minister. And he's warning that outlawing Khan's party will be a mistake.

TAIMUR JHAGRA: It will further erode the political temperature in the country. And that's not good for Pakistan given how volatile the political situation is. It will make Imran Khan even more popular because it will make the bias of the government even more naked.

HADID: Even more naked. And as parliament plans to meet, Khan will be holding a large rally in Lahore. That's Pakistan's second-largest city. So it's likely to be a show of muscle.

FADEL: So this sounds like a really worrying trajectory, then. This is a popular political figure. How did it all get here?

HADID: Well, let's step back a bit. Khan was ousted from power in April last year in a no confidence vote. He didn't have the numbers. He's been calling for elections since then. But a few months ago, it became increasingly clear that Khan's popularity was on the rise. And the government's popularity was tanking. And so the government doesn't want to lose power. But also, analysts say the government's cracking down hard on Imran Khan because he pursued a crackdown against them when he was in power. And if there are free and fair elections, Khan's party now would likely have the largest number of votes. And so that cycle of revenge may well continue. So analysts say they're not optimistic of a breakthrough anytime soon, like Amber Rahim Shamsi. She was one of Pakistan's leading journalists. Now she's an analyst.

AMBER RAHIM SHAMSI: I hope better sense prevails. And I think, at the moment, we're really grasping at hope. I fear more violence because obviously Imran Khan is not backing down despite all his indications that he's willing to talk.

FADEL: Now, Diaa, as we heard Steve say, Pakistan has faced many crises over the years. Why is this more worrying than other times?

HADID: So analysts say this is an important moment because Pakistan is facing multiple snowballing crises right now. The country is on the brink of default. Inflation is soaring. People are skipping meals to get by. Five million people are on the brink of famine. Climate change is battering the country with heatwaves and floods. And all the forces that once helped smooth over the country's problems just don't appear to be working. Pakistan's military appears to be openly divided about Imran Khan, so are the courts, so are lawyers and so are people.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
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