AT EACH OTHER’S THROATS
Khan and Sharif have been at each other’s throats for months, trading accusations of incompetence and corruption with language and tone dripping with contempt.
But such a public accusation by Khan, and the naming of a senior military officer, has taken the situation to a new level of crisis.
Khan has offered no evidence to back his claims, which the government has dismissed as “lies and fabrications”.
Criticism of the military – which has ruled the country for roughly half of its 75-year history – has always been a red line, but Khan has been increasingly outspoken against a security establishment many say backed his original rise to power.
On Friday, the military’s press wing issued a statement urging the government to take Khan to court for defamation.
Officials from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party could also be in the crosshairs.
Senior party members have already been charged with “sedition” and other offences since Khan’s ouster, as have journalists considered sympathetic to the former PM.
“It seems that now some sort of operation might be launched against PTI,” said analyst Ahmed Khan, adding there was a risk the party could fragment.
As Khan’s huge rallies are designed to prove – to both his political opposition and the military – that he has the support of the public, the results could be “chaos, despair, and disappointment”, he added.
In such a charged atmosphere, multiple accusations and denials from both sides are unlikely to ever be properly probed, said Karachi-based political analyst Kaiser Bengali.
That, he added, leaves room for conspiracy theories to abound.
“The state has lost its legitimacy … police, law and order institutions – even the judiciary,” he said.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Bengali said the military was now “sitting and wondering what went wrong and what can they do”.
The government has said the assassination bid against Khan was “a very clear case of religious extremism”, blaming a lone gunman who hailed from a poor village.
Pakistan has long grappled with Islamist militancy, with right-wing religious groups having huge sway over the population in the Muslim-majority country.
Khan and his PTI have been accused in the past of stoking religious sentiments to appeal to a wider support base.
“Religious extremism is a weapon which the PTI use – and so do the army and the state,” said Bengali. “So we are heading towards an immensely dangerous situation.”
Behind the political crisis, however, hides a more pervasive one – the economy.
“The state is bankrupt, whatever resources it has are consumed in debt servicing and defence, and the government salaries,” Bengali said.
“Whatever crumbs are available is what the politicians are fighting over … that is why the fight has become so petty.”