KARACHI– Pakistani police appeared at the home of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore on Tuesday, apparently with the intention of arresting him.in a sharp escalation of political tensions in the country.
Khan faced fresh arrest warrants as he continued his fierce campaign to force elections nearly a year after he was ousted in a no-confidence vote. On Twitter, his party, Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), urged his supporters to rush to the Zaman Park residence but “keep calm”. The situation quickly deteriorated as the growing crowd slowed the officers’ advance.
Footage showed supporters blocking the entrances to his home and throwing stones. Police reportedly resorted to using batons and tear gas as a helicopter flew over Zaman Park.
In a video message posted on Khan’s Twitter account, the deposed prime minister said police had come to arrest him. “They think that if Imran Khan goes to jail, the masses will fall asleepsaid. “You have to show them they are wrong.”
Khan implored his supporters to keep fighting regardless of Tuesday’s outcome. “If anything happens to me, if I go to jail or get killed, you have to show that this nation will continue to fight even without Imran Khan.”
The Associated Press reported that officers had still not arrested Khan hours after the police operation and left at midnight.
Since being ousted as prime minister in April 2022, Khan has sought to disrupt the coalition government led by his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, and provoke snap elections. On Monday, the cricketer-turned-Islamist led a huge rally in Lahore, driving an armored car, fighting his way through thousands of PTI supporters. On the same day, separate courts issued two arrest warrants for Khan’s detention without bail after he ignored the summons.
After surviving an apparent assassination attempt during a protest march last November, Khan has refused to appear in court citing health and safety concerns. On Tuesday, a court temporarily suspended one of the arrest warrants, and the Islamabad High Court was set to hear the PTI’s petition against another arrest warrant on Wednesday. But Khan’s fate remained uncertain as the police descended on him and his supporters confronted her.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah tweeted that the “person who fled the court” would be arrested. Khan reportedly formed a committee of senior PTI leaders to deal with party affairs and decide on the course of action should he be arrested.
Reuters quoted a government spokesman as blaming the PTI for inciting violence. “If Imran Khan guarantees his presence in court, it will be good; otherwise the law will take its course,” said the spokesperson.
Khan has previously faced warrants and attempted arrests, including a similar incident where he prevented a raid on his residence in Lahore.. The latest warrants aimed at taking him to court later this month over gifts from the state and comments threatening a judge.
Khan faces a series of charges, including allegedly hiding state gifts held in the Toshakhana, a repository for items received from foreign governments. Both he and his supporters maintain that the allegations are politically motivated.
Although Khan wants new elections, the government is mired in a deepening economic crisis and has pushed for national elections to be held in October as planned. The ruling alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, argues that conditions are not conducive to holding elections as the country pushes to avoid financial defaults and has faced a spate of terrorist attacks by the Taliban, locals and other militant groups.
But now political tensions are even higher, after Khan dissolved two provincial assemblies as part of a strategy to boost local and, by extension, national votes. Police and PTI supporters also clashed last week at another rally in Lahore, with the political party claiming that one of its activists had been killed. Khan claimed it was a case of “custodial torture”, while police called it a “traffic accident”.
Experts suggest that any crackdown on Khan could backfire. Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said ahead of Tuesday’s events: “It would be a high-stakes gamble if the state tries to sideline Khan. “He is a masterful populist who knows how to take advantage of the grievances of his growing rank and file… If the state cracks down on him, it can only make him more popular.”
Surveys show that you don’t need much help in that area.: A Gallup poll published last week gave Khan an approval rating of 61%, while his detractors trailed at 36%.
While the government seems to have few good options, it is also clear that the stakes are high for Khan. The former prime minister faces dozens of charges, including terrorism-related charges, criticism of state institutions, unauthorized foreign political financing, failure to declare a dependent child and failure to declare income from the sale of Toshakhana gifts.
“The inaccuracy [de bienes], intentionally or not, can obviously lead to disqualification” from politics, said Osama Malik, a lawyer from Islamabad. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, brother of the current Prime Minister, was disqualified on similar grounds, albeit under a different article of the constitution.
Khan himself was disqualified as a member of the National Assembly by the Election Commission last October over the issue of state gifts. The PTI appealed this decision to the Islamabad High Court, which did not suspend the order, but stated that Khan was free to stand as a candidate in future elections. Khan ran and won the by-election.
Currently, all eyes are on two upcoming provincial elections that Sharif’s government prefers to postpone.
The PTI, which governed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, dissolved those assemblies in January. Since the constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days of dissolution, the idea seems to have been for the tight government to give in while holding national elections to save money.
Last month, The Ministry of Finance rejected the request of the electoral office to release all funds for the provincial elections. But the Supreme Court ruled this month that the elections must go ahead. Khan’s PTI chairman Arif Alvi has called for Punjab’s election to be held on April 30, after the central government hesitated to set a date. The date of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections has not yet been announced.
As prospects for the provincial election remain uncertain, analysts say another key question is how Pakistan’s powerful military is handling the political crisis.
The PTI has appealed to the masses by loudly accusing Pakistan’s political elite of corruption and former army chief General Qamar Bajwa of orchestrating Khan’s ouster. “Pakistan politics has not been this polarized in a long time, and it is clear that the military will not soon forgive Khan for all the accusations and vitriol he has directed against the army leadership for nearly a year,” said the Wilson’s Kugelman. Centre.
He also pointed to the history of bad blood between Khan and the new army chief, General Syed Asim Munir, who was sacked as spy chief when Khan was prime minister.
At Monday’s rally in Lahore, Khan softened some of his rhetoric and avoided criticizing the judiciary and military. But he seemed unwilling to give up, either in court or in front of his opponents. He announced another big rally in Lahore for this weekend.