🌍 Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years jail

Plus: A continent away

Hi Intriguer. There’s an ol’ British saying that controversies are usually due to a “cock-up [blunder], not a conspiracy”. But sometimes, it’s both.

You could argue that today’s briefing leads with one remarkable example: the nuclear-armed telenovela that is Pakistan’s imminent elections.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

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TODAY’S NEWS

Biden settles on a response. US President Joe Biden says he’s decided on a response to the attack by an Iran-backed group that killed three US troops in Jordan on Sunday. He didn’t elaborate, but White House spokesperson John Kirby has suggested the US might favour a "tiered approach", while Biden himself said "I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East."

Zelensky to fire top general. Ukraine’s president is reportedly close to firing his top general, Valeriy Zaluzhny, for not getting the desired results in last year’s counteroffensive. Some worry Zaluzhny’s dismissal could cause a rift in Ukraine (where the general is highly regarded) and with Kyiv’s closest allies (who’ve worked closely with Zaluzhny).

Rural merger. China has plans to merge hundreds of rural banks into bigger regional lenders to reduce the financial risk from their high bad-loan ratios. The country’s rural banks, which are notoriously opaque, came under increased scrutiny in 2022 after hundreds of protesters campaigned to get back the $6B in savings they’d lost to a banking fraud.

Not today, Elon. A US judge has voided Elon Musk’s $55B pay package from Tesla in 2018, ruling the CEO had “dominated” the process that led to its approval.

TOP STORY

Former PM (and sports star) Imran Khan convicted again as election nears

Former Pakistani prime minister and cricket superstar Imran Khan has been sentenced to ten years in jail for leaking official secrets (plus another 14 years for corruption), just before the country’s general election next Thursday 8 February.

This is intriguing for a few big reasons.  

First, there’s the charge: violating Pakistan’s Official Secrets Act. Prosecutors say Khan shared the contents of a diplomatic cable at a political rally just before he was ousted in 2022. Waving the cable (from Pakistan’s ambassador to the US), he told supporters it was proof of a secret plot to unseat him.

Second, there’s the secret trial: behind closed doors, in a jail, with government-appointed prosecution and defence teams, and no chance for Khan’s lawyers to cross-examine witnesses.

Third, there’s the timing: Pakistan’s election is next week. Khan was already serving a sentence for selling official gifts, including a $2M watch (!) he got from the Saudi crown prince. So he wasn’t able to run in this election.

But he’s still the country’s most popular politician, he maintains the charges against him are political, and his party has still been campaigning for seats. A big showing on election day could’ve been a rebuke to Pakistan’s ruling class, but that’s unlikely now that a government crackdown has side-lined his party.

And fourth, there’s the person this all helps: Nawaz Sharif. He’s a three-time former prime minister who returned to Pakistan from exile late last year, just as courts suddenly started removing various legal hurdles to his political comeback (including convictions on corruption charges he denies).  

Does this all feel like someone might be pulling the strings here? 

It’s a question that can give off conspiracy-theorist vibes, but not when you’re talking about Pakistan: its military ruled the country for decades, then faded into the shadows without relinquishing control. It sees itself as a national guardian against chaos and weakness, a premise it’s long used to justify its meddling.

So that’s why, despite Pakistan’s former army chief declaringthe military has decided they will not interfere in any political matter”, we’re still feeling pretty confident about the result of next week’s elections.

Imran Khan lost power after a high-profile confrontation with the military. So now it’s Nawaz Sharif back in the military’s favour, and that’ll put him back in power.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Let’s reflect briefly on the three protagonists here.

First, Imran Khan. Intriguers who grew up watching cricket will have a sense of just how big a deal this all is for Pakistanis and beyond. He was a gifted cricketer who just got better and better, culminating in a big World Cup win. And his celebrity UK marriage (then split) made him a tabloid hit.

Second, Pakistan’s military. It long backed the Taliban and meddled in Afghan politics next door, but the result has arguably been more chaos for Pakistan, not less. The same might now be said for its meddling back home.

And third, Pakistan’s next prime minister (again): Nawaz Sharif. His last three terms all ended early after showdowns with the military. So why’s he now back in favour with the generals? It’s because they prefer him to the volatile populism of Imran Khan.

Also worth noting: 

  • No Pakistani prime minister has ever served their full five-year term.

  • The upcoming elections were originally scheduled to take place last November, but were controversially postponed to redraw constituencies.

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇺🇸 United States: US authorities say they’ve disrupted a China-based hacking group called Volt Typhoon that’s been focused on US naval ports, internet providers, and utilities. US officials worry the group was seeking to hamper US readiness in case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

  2. 🇱🇺 Luxembourg: The EU’s statistics agency (Eurostat in Luxembourg) says the eurozone narrowly avoided recession last quarter. Weakness in the bloc’s two largest economies (Germany and France) was partially offset by unexpectedly strong numbers out of Spain and Italy.

  3. 🇻🇳 Vietnam: Philippines President Marcos Jr has signed a maritime pact with Vietnam to help manage conflicts in the South China Sea. The two countries have overlapping maritime claims with each other and with China (which claims most of the sea despite a landmark ruling against it in 2016).

  4. 🇵🇪 Peru: Protestors have been blocking access to the famous lost city of Machu Picchu, leaving hundreds of tourists stranded. Locals are angry at a new centralised ticketing system to control crowds, as Peru’s tourism sector recovers from the pandemic and last year’s civil unrest. 

  5. 🇹🇷 Turkey: Police have arrested 51 suspects for Sunday’s attack on a church in Istanbul that left one person dead (before the attackers’ gun jammed). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on the Mass, which was attended by the Polish consul-general and his family (unharmed).

MAP OF THE DAY

Credits: Epic Maps (@Locati0ns on Twitter/X)

The 1980s band Icehouse once released a hit song called ‘Great Southern Land’ about… their great big southern land, Australia. The above map shows just how big and southern that land is: Australia’s city of Melbourne is closer to Antarctica than it is to Australia’s own northern city of Darwin.

DAILY POLL

Is it ever justifiable for the military to interfere in politics?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Yesterday’s poll: Do you think the EU is right to play hardball with Hungary?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🟢 Yes, one country can't hold the other 26 hostage (84%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🔴 No, unanimity is there for a reason (15%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (1%)

Your two cents:

  • 🟢 B.N: “Couldn’t the question also be phrased, is it right for Hungary to play hardball with the EU? I hate to put it in these terms, but Hungary started this - certainly they’ve planned for a round or two of hardball, no?”

  • 🟢 D.R: “It feels more like playing hardball with one person rather than with the country. More so given that person's track record of undermining and relativizing the democratic values and principles, keeping close ties with Russia.”

  • 🔴 T.S: “Forced unity is not unity at all. It’s just a dictatorship. If you are building a group with rules - then you have to be willing to deal with all the people in the group.”

  • ✍️ C.M: “Hungary is playing by rules that the EU put in force.”

✏️ Corrections corner: Thanks to the Intriguers who pointed out that yesterday’s briefing mistakenly dropped a Finland map pin on Sweden - sorry Sweden and Finland! 😅🤦

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