Pakistan's former Prime Minister, Imran Khan along with his wife Bushra Bibi during the signing of surety bonds for bail in various cases, at a registrar office in the High court, in Lahore on July 17, 2023. Image Credit: AFP file

ISLAMABAD: Former international cricket star Imran Khan had vowed to lead the country a second time after being ousted as prime minister in 2022, but two lengthy prison sentences in a week have put paid to his chances — for now at least.

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Khan and his wife were sentenced on Wednesday to 14 years in prison after being convicted of graft in connection with gifts he received while premier from 2018 to 2022.

A day earlier, he was found guilty of leaking state secrets and jailed for 10 years.

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With national elections one week away, it would be easy to write off the charismatic 71-year-old’s political career.

But Khan won cricket matches from seemingly impossible positions as national captain, and Pakistan has seen dozens of politicians sentenced to lengthy prison terms only to see them overturned when they are back in favour.

That Khan remains wildly popular is not in doubt, but the fate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party he founded is uncertain without him at the helm.

Many senior leaders are also locked away, or have abandoned the party, vastly diminishing his street power.

What were gifts mentioned in Khan’s Toshakhana (gifts) case?
Some 108 gifts have been listed, including perfumes, diamond jewellery, dinner sets and cufflinks.
The gifts also include seven watches, six of them Rolexes. The most expensive was a “Master Graff limited edition” valued at 85 million rupees ($300,000).
Total value of the gifts: Rs140 million ($500,000)
In Pakistan, government officials are allowed to buy gifts received from foreign dignitaries and heads of state, but they aren’t usually then sold. If they are, the earnings must be declared.

The party was also stripped of its cricket bat symbol - vital in elections in a country where adult literacy is just 58 per cent.

After being booted from power in April 2022 by a no-confidence vote, Khan waged a risky and unprecedented campaign.

That anger spilled onto the streets in May after he was arrested for the first time, sparking three days of sometimes violent protests.

What does Khan’s conviction mean for election
Former Pakistani Prime Minister and cricket star Imran Khan was jailed for 14 years on Wednesday on charges of illegally selling state gifts, a day after he received a 10-year sentence for leaking state secrets.
The convictions come days before a national election scheduled for February 8.
Here are some facts on how these sentences influence his political future, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, and the upcoming election: Khan, 71, was already barred from holding public office for five years following an earlier graft conviction, which ruled him out of next week’s polls.
Wednesday’s sentence extends that ban on Khan from holding public office to 10 years, which means he could not be prime minister again until 2034.
The convictions also mean Khan, in jail since August, will not be able to come out of jail to campaign for his party’s candidates in the election.
Khan’s absence has already left his party in disarray, with many key aides jailed, on the run, or having abandoned him in the face of a spate of legal challenges.
There are a number of candidates backed by Khan and his party that are contesting next week’s election, but there are no big political names to carry his party in his absence.
PTI is temporarily being led by a little known lawyer, Gohar Ali Khan, who is also Khan’s legal counsel.
On January 14, Khan’s party was stripped of its traditional electoral symbol of a cricket bat in a court ruling, which means his candidates are contesting as independents.
Even if PTI-backed candidates win, as independents they are not bound to stay with the party and are open to joining other parties - and Khan remaining in jail for the foreseeable future increases the chances of this.
The support of victorious independent candidates in the aftermath of the polls will be crucial for any party vying to secure the numbers necessary in parliament to form a government.

At the time he was still recovering from an assassination attempt which saw him shot in the leg — an attack he blamed on his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, and a senior army officer.

Both denied involvement, and Khan did not offer evidence of his allegations.

Popular support

Khan enjoyed genuine popular support when he became premier in 2018, but critics say he failed to deliver on promises to revitalise the economy and improve the plight of the poor.

He was voted in by millions who grew up watching him play cricket, where he excelled as an all-rounder and led the nation to World Cup victory in 1992.

PTI overturned decades of dominance by the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N —two usually feuding groups that joined forces to oust him in April 2022.

Khan’s vision was for Pakistan to become a welfare state modelled on the Islamic golden age of the seventh to 14th centuries, a period of cultural, economic and scientific flourishing in the Muslim world.

But he made little headway in improving Pakistan’s financial situation, with galloping inflation, crippling debt and a feeble rupee undermining economic reform.

He also went after his political opponents, with many prominent PPP and PML-N leaders jailed for corruption during his tenure. Some have been released or seen the cases against them evaporate since he left power.

Rights groups also decried a crackdown on media freedoms under his rule, with television news channels unofficially banned from airing his opponents’ views.

Today, with the tables turned, he faces many of the same curbs.

Tiptoed into politics

The Oxford-educated son of a wealthy Lahore family, Khan had a reputation as a playboy until his retirement from international cricket.

For years he busied himself with charity projects, raising millions to build a cancer hospital to honour his mother.

He tiptoed into politics and for years held the PTI’s only parliamentary seat.

The party grew during the military-led government of General Pervez Musharraf and the civilian government that followed, becoming a genuine force in the 2013 elections before winning a majority five years later.

Married three times, his current wife Bushra Bibi — who was also jailed for 14 years on Wednesday in the same graft case — comes from a politically prominent family and is a religious leader.

Often described as being impulsive and brash, Khan draws frequently on cricket analogies to describe his political battles.

“This trial is not a trial but a fixed match,” he said in a message posted on his X account following Tuesday’s sentencing.