Pakistan is cracking down on Imran Khan’s party

Pakistani authorities have cracked down on former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, arresting thousands of supporters of the popular opposition leader and allegedly pressuring senior allies to quit the group.

Pakistan’s military and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government responded harshly to violent protests this month sparked by the anti-corruption agency’s arrest. At least 10 people have been killed in the protests and military buildings have been vandalized.

Khan, who is out on bail, claimed on Thursday that 10,000 PEM supporters are in jail. The government estimated the number to be lower.

“The state is trying to dismantle the party,” Khan said, warning that Pakistan had begun to “slip into fascism” under Sharif.

A number of senior PTI leaders have also been arrested, and some have suddenly announced that they have withdrawn from the party and left politics in recent days. Among them were Fuad Chowdhury and Shirin Mazari, both former ministers of the Equity and Reconciliation Movement. Mazari announced her retirement on Tuesday after being arrested four times this month.

Sharif and the military, which plays a powerful role behind the scenes in governing the country, condemned the Ansar Khan violence and vowed to crack down on the alleged perpetrators, with the prime minister accusing them of terrorism. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday that authorities were considering banning the rescue movement.

Khan, who has led a relentless and often relentless campaign for immediate elections, and his party has also condemned the violence.

On Wednesday, the former prime minister offered to negotiate with the government to find a solution to the crisis – his most significant concession since he was removed from office in a vote of no confidence last year. If they have a solution [show] He said that the country will do better without Imran Khan, I am ready to step down.

The arrests have alarmed international observers, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warning on Wednesday that “the rule of law [is] in grave danger.”

Analysts said the crackdown, which they believe is being overseen by the military, is one of the most significant challenges to democracy in Pakistan since its return to civilian rule in 2008 after years of dictatorship.

“The current crackdown is evidence of a slide toward outright authoritarianism,” said Uzair Yunus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “The current structure still has a façade of civilian democratic rule through parliament. It remains to be seen if it will survive the onslaught.”

He added that the campaign “is being led by the military, with the coalition government in Islamabad playing the role of a willing junior partner.”

The Pakistani army and government did not respond to requests for comment.

Khan faces a barrage of legal challenges, including allegations of corruption and terrorism, all of which he denies. And while many analysts have said he would be the most popular candidate in national elections due by October, he could be barred from running if convicted.

“Before the elections take place, the PTI movement will be effectively restricted,” said Imtiaz Gul, a political commentator in Islamabad. “It is a systematic shackling of the most popular political parties.”

Civil society groups have also called on the authorities to find Imran Riaz Khan, a pro-PTI journalist who has been missing since his arrest on 11 May.

Reporters Without Borders has claimed that Khan, who is not related to the former prime minister, has been “kidnapped” by the military. The group said in a statement: “The Pakistani authorities will bear direct responsibility for any damage that may be caused to him.”

A second journalist, Sami Ibrahim, was also reported missing by his family on Thursday.

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