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The Immunity Challenge

by Newsweek Pakistan

Mobeen Ansari

Can Imran Khan’s popularity protect him from Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations?

Is Imran Khan, the charismatic leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), going to lose his immunity from political damage after what happened last week? The unthinkable might actually occur following MNA Ayesha Gulalai’s public declaration that he sent her messages of seduction from his protected Blackberry cellphone in October 2013. She also told media at her Aug. 1 press conference that she was resigning from the party because “no lady is safe” from the immoral conduct of Khan and his “gang” of cronies.

Khan has many politically damaging court cases going on against him but his charisma and street power have endowed him with immunity from any negative fallout. But this time the accusation is of a different nature and his “forgiven” playboy-cricketer past—which he regretted in his autobiography—may not save him. His appeal among the masses, the youth, and significantly Pakistani women, was such that his popularity didn’t fade even after his second wife went public on how she was summarily divorced soon after the wedding. His magnetism remains damage-proof today as he often takes the moral high ground to castigate his opponents for corruption.

Khan’s street power keeps him secured against the police forces sent to arrest him by courts whose summons he routinely flouts. But this time he could be in trouble. If Gulalai cooperates with a parliamentary investigation into her allegations and provides evidence of Khan’s lewd messages, his political opponents could easily seek to get him disqualified as an elected member of Parliament under the “piety” Article 62 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

A prime minister has just been kicked out of office by the Supreme Court on the basis of Article 62 for an “irregularity” involving non-declaration to the Election Commission of approximately Rs. 500,000 from a foreign company he served as chairman of many years back. The Gulalai accusation may not go to court but it stands a better chance of piercing the impenetrable armor of Khan’s popularity in the months leading to the country’s next general elections.

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