Khan, a former cricket star, denied the accusations against him. In a prerecorded message, he urged his supporters to protest the verdict, telling them to not “keep hiding at home.”
“My pursuit isn’t a personal battle,” he said, adding that what’s at stake is “the future of your children.”
But there was little visible opposition on the streets on Saturday — a departure from the unrest that flared across Pakistan after his first arrest on separate corruption charges earlier this year. In that case, the Supreme Court later intervened, declaring his arrest unlawful.
But since then, Pakistani authorities, including the military, have cracked down on Khan’s supporters and the leadership of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Movement for Justice. Scores of political aides and party members have resigned, citing pressure from the military, which supported Khan before he ultimately fell out of favor with the powerful generals.
The military has long played a dominant role in Pakistani politics, wielding influence on political candidates behind the scenes — and overthrowing several governments.
In the months leading up to his ouster by parliament in April last year, Khan clashed with the military leadership over the selection of nominees for key army positions and criticism that his government was failing to address soaring inflation and debt. Khan and the military also appeared increasingly divided on foreign policy. In March last year, Khan accused the U.S. government and Pakistani opposition of conspiring against him, prompting U.S. denials and dismaying the military leadership that was seeking to maintain a working relationship with the United States.
More than one year later, Khan’s party is a shadow of its former self. “Most of our top leadership is underground,” Raoof Hasan, a PTI spokesman, said Saturday.
His remaining allies also criticized the ruling Saturday. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the vice chairman of Khan’s party, said the trial was “biased” and “political” and the ruling was “predetermined.”
Officials denied such characterization of the proceedings, which centered on allegations that Khan sold state gifts from foreign dignitaries. Senior interior affairs official Attaullah Tarar said the trial’s outcome showed that Khan was “a convicted thief and criminal.”
But his arrest could also challenge civilian and military leaders as Pakistan grapples with an economic crisis and a spate of recent terrorist attacks.
If Khan managed to get on the ballot despite his incarceration, his populist appeal may still help him win the upcoming vote, analysts say. Voters also may get frustrated if the election — which is so far expected to take place in November — is delayed, according to Khan’s allies.
PTI has accused the government of stalling the vote by trying to redraw constituencies. The goal, the party says, is to give the government enough time to finalize Khan’s ban from politics ahead of the vote.
Officials rejected those claims Saturday. “The law has naturally taken its course,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said in a statement.
Noack reported from Paris and Hussain from Islamabad. Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.