Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan may be in prison, but he has still the commanding support of the Pakistani public. According to a just-released survey by Gallup Pakistan conducted in June, Khan holds a 60 percent approval rating, surpassing his major rivals by 24 points or more.
Khan remains Pakistan’s most popular politician, despite the efforts of the Pakistani Army to dismantle his party. Indeed, if free and fair elections are held in Pakistan, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) could come out on top.
Read more: Imran Khan Transferred to Adiala Jail
Khan’s once-friendly relations with the army soured in early 2022 when the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, backed his removal from power through a vote of no confidence. Rather than fade away, Khan took to the streets and social media with a narrative that leveraged public grievances against corruption and poor governance as well as the interference of the army and the United States in Pakistani politics.
Khan’s popularity has only since soared. So too has inflation, battering the general public — and their view of his political rivals.
On November 3, 2022, Khan survived an assassination attempt — the investigation of which has been stifled by the army and the then-coalition government.
On May 9, 2023, paramilitary forces violently arrested Khan from the premises of the Islamabad High Court. His followers came out in protest. Some engaged in violence that saw the destruction of military property. The violence provided the army with a pretext to neutralize Khan’s PTI.
Since May 9, the army and intelligence services of Pakistan have used various tools of coercion, including repeated arrests and sexual blackmail, to force the resignation of senior and mid-level figures in Khan’s PTI. The campaign against Khan’s PTI crescendoed on August 5 when he was arrested and summarily convicted on charges related to the alleged concealment of wealth.
Importantly, the Gallup Pakistan survey was conducted as the army was going all out in its campaign to dismantle Khan’s PTI. The resilience of the ex-cricketers popularity represents a conundrum for the Pakistan Army, which rules the country today through a caretaker government and is under pressure to hold general elections.