Pakistan is considering barring former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party from assaulting the state, the defense minister said on Wednesday, a move that is sure to infuriate his fans and aggravate his feud with the military establishment.
The former cricketer is entangled in the next critical phase of a decades-long battle between civilian leaders and Pakistan’s strong military, which has ruled directly or indirectly over governments throughout the country’s history.
The face-off has brought widespread protests by Khan’s supporters, raising new fears about the stability of the nuclear-armed country as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had attacked the “very basis of state”, which could not be tolerated.
“It is under consideration to ban PTI,” he said, adding the parliament would have to give final approval for a government decision to ban the party.
The minister referred to Khan’s protesting supporters who this month attacked military installations, including army headquarters, and government buildings.
Khan, or a PTI spokesperson, were not immediately available for comment.
Khan became prime minister in 2018 with the tacit support of the military, though both sides denied it at the time. The military saw Khan, with his conservative, nationalist agenda, as likely to ensure the protection of its interests.
But Khan later fell out with the generals after being seen as having tried to interfere in key promotions in the security sphere, and he was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in 2022.
Khan, 70, has since then been campaigning for a snap general election, rallying supporters across the country, but the prime minister who replaced him, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected the call for an election before one is due late this year.
Khan is also facing corruption charges that he has dismissed as being cooked in a bid to banish him from politics.
Khan was detained on May 9 in connection with the charges, sparking the protests by his supporters and their attacks on the military facilities.
Khan was later freed on bail.