The political crisis The conflict sparked by the impeachment of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2022 has since led to a massive crackdown on the remnants of his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The military’s campaign included a spate of killings and arrests against Khan’s supporters, including journalists believed to be linked to his movement.

The impact was not just limited to those with ties only to Pakistan itself. Victims of the raid include American and British nationals and residents who were detained in Pakistan after escalating repression in response to a series of anti-military demonstrations last May.

It is widely believed that Pakistan is becoming a police state, with thousands arrested on politicized charges in recent months. The exact number of foreign nationals arrested in this raid is unclear, but at least one dual national, a Pakistani-American named Khadijah Shah, is known to be in military custody.

In June this year, in response to questions about her case, the US government announced that it had requested consular access to Shah from the Pakistani government. Shah is a well-known Pakistani-American fashion designer and her case has received exceptional media attention. The US government has said little about their fate. As for other US citizens in Pakistan, the US has not discussed attempts to determine whether other Americans could be detained there. (A State Department spokesman said: “Consular officials have visited Ms. Shaw three times since her arrest. The last visit was on July 27, 2023. We continue to monitor Ms. Shah’s case closely.”)

Some Pakistanis with western ties say many other non-resident Pakistanis are likely to be in detention. Shahzad Akbar, a former rights activist in Pakistan and later an anti-corruption minister in Khan’s government, fled the crackdown to the UK, where he is a resident. Akbar said many more American and British Pakistanis are likely to be in jail over the actions in Pakistan and their families are afraid to come forward because of the possible consequences for their loved ones.

“The statement we have heard from foreign governments is that what is happening is an internal matter of Pakistan, even though many of those detained were foreign nationals of Pakistani descent,” Akbar said. “But if you know what is happening is political repression of dissidents, your own intelligence confirms it, and your citizens are concerned, you cannot just dismiss it as an internal matter.”

“The statement we have heard from foreign governments is that what is happening is an internal matter of Pakistan, although many of those detained were foreign nationals of Pakistani descent.”

A State Department spokesman said, “We have no higher priority than the safety of US citizens abroad.” We are in close contact with the Pakistani authorities on this matter and expect them to ensure fair and transparent treatment for all detainees in the country in accordance with Pakistani law and international obligations.”

Akbar’s own family is affected by the raid. In May this year, his brother was arrested in Pakistan by security forces to pressure him to return to the country from the UK. “My brother was arrested in the middle of the night on May 28,” Akbar said. “Dozens of armed paramilitaries and anti-terrorist police surrounded his house, broke down the door and took him into custody.”

Akbar said security forces wanted him to testify against Khan over corruption charges, for which the former prime minister is currently in jail.

“Since then I’ve been receiving messages through back channels telling me that if I want my brother back I should return to Pakistan from the UK and testify against Imran Khan,” he said.

Akbar refused the demand for Khan’s return and denunciation. His brother remains in detention without charge.

“I’m a pro,” he said. “I was hired by the government to do a role. I’m not even a member of any political party. I never thought it would get to the point where the military would kidnap my brother and hold him hostage with no criminal charge just to put pressure on me.”

US pressure to oust Khan

Both the US and UK governments have viewed the crisis surrounding Khan’s ouster as an internal affair of the Pakistani government, although the crackdown on his party has escalated into a general attack on Pakistani civil society.

A Human Rights Watch statement earlier this year criticized the Pakistani government for detaining political activists after the May uprising. “Many have been charged under vague and overly broad laws that prohibit riots and pose a threat to public order,” the group said.

In addition to extrajudicial detentions, the government has been accused of torturing detainees in custody.

The issue of dual nationality, dual residency Pakistanis falling into this trap is particularly significant given the apparent role of the US government itself in initiating the crisis. The Intercept reported earlier this month a secret cable from the Pakistani government that Khan had referred to in public appearances long before he went to jail. The document reports a meeting where US diplomats threatened their Pakistani counterparts with “isolation” if Khan stayed in power and promised rewards if he were removed in a no-confidence vote in 2022.

Since the vote, Pakistan’s economy and political system have been mired in an escalating crisis that has now pushed the country towards full-blown military dictatorship. This week, the Pakistani president added a new twist to history after he refused to sign a series of laws – a constitutional requirement – that would have given the Pakistani military sweeping new authoritarian powers.

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