After the dramatic arrest of the former prime minister Imran Khan last week, the Pakistani army declared that “restraint will no longer be exercised” against groups that target military installations and vowed to pursue legal action against those responsible for property damage.
The military issued a statement late Monday without naming anyone, saying, “The Armed Forces are well aware of the planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators of these attacks and attempts to create distortions in this regard are absolutely futile.”
“Those responsible for these heinous crimes against military installations, personnel, and equipment will be prosecuted in accordance with applicable Pakistani laws, including the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act.”
Khan, who was detained by an anti-graft agency and later released by the Supreme Court, is still at odds with Pakistan’s most powerful institution, and the military’s swift response marks another escalation in that conflict. His detention stoked intense resentment among his supporters, who broke into the military’s headquarters and set fire to a commander’s official residence.
Numerous others were detained, including some of Khan’s closest political allies and aides. At least eight people were killed.
An attitude shift in Pakistan, which has been directly ruled by the army for nearly half of its history since its creation in 1947, can be seen in the military’s growing public defiance against civilian authority. Khan himself was one of the many prime ministers who relied on the institution’s backing to remain in office, but his relationships with it deteriorated while he was in charge.
Khan made an effort to control military promotions and clashed with the army chief in charge at the time, setting the stage for his overthrow in April of last year. He claimed that the army, US, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif were involved in a plot to remove him from office. All three denied this. But he persisted in his effort to sway public opinion against the military.
The army criticized Khan in the days before his arrest by paramilitary forces for blaming the organization for at least two assassination attempts, including a shooting incident in November, even though Khan was not specifically mentioned in the statement made on Monday. The allegations have been consistently refuted by the military.
Khan’s party denied that any of its members had damaged any army property.
Shafqat Mahmood, a senior leader in Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said over the phone, “We also believe that those involved in terrorism against the state must be punished but it is very important that they should be correctly identified.” There were spectators there who weren’t in favor of us. They were obviously outsiders.