At the end of July, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, resigned from his post following a supreme court ruling that disqualified him from office. He had been targeted over months of protests for alleged corruption, after reports about the Panama Papers in April 2016 revealed links between his family and several offshore companies. In November, the supreme court agreed to hold an inquiry into the allegations and, eight months later, Sharif became the second elected head of state—after Iceland’s prime minister—to fall from power as a result of the leaked documents.
Among the most triumphant reactions after Sharif’s fall came from his rival Imran Khan, who had spearheaded the aggressive protests against him, and was among those who petitioned the court for an inquiry. He declared that the ruling was “just the beginning,” and that the decision had “given hope to the people of Pakistan.”
Imran Khan is the founder and leader of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI. While he promotes himself as a crusader for justice, his own politics demands closer scrutiny. In his two decades in politics, Imran has sought to pit himself as a fighter against a rotting, corrupt government. He has led several dozen protests, many lasting weeks, all aimed at toppling democratically elected governments. But throughout, Imran has also maintained deference towards the Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence—broadly, the “establishment”—which has always sought to concentrate power within itself. Even as Imran’s popularity and prominence have grown, questions have arisen about whether he has enabled the establishment to use populism to its own ends.