A Pakistani high court on Thursday ordered law enforcement to delay any efforts to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan until Friday morning due to jurisdiction issues. This extended a delay that had been ordered the day before reportedly to allow a cricket match scheduled nearby to be played without being impeded by the presence of security forces.
Earlier in the week, bricks and rubber bullets had been exchanged amid clouds of tear gas across the country. Wednesday marked a second day of standoff between police, who had surrounded Khan’s home in Lahore, and Khan’s supporters—as the embattled opposition leader remained holed up in his home in Lahore to resist arrest.
The clashes began Tuesday evening after police attempted to serve a warrant on Khan after he failed to show up in court for graft charges lodged against him—but hundreds of Khan’s allies formed a human barricade.
On Twitter, Khan on Wednesday shared photos and videos of live round casings purportedly fired outside his Zaman Park residence, and he accused law enforcement of firing on unarmed citizens. He also claimed that the “real intent” of the police was not just to arrest him but to “abduct and assassinate.” Khan has signed a “surety bond” to guarantee his appearance at a trial later this month.
At least 69 people, including 34 police officers, have been injured amid the violence in Lahore, a Pakistani police official told CNN.
Clashes between Khan’s supporters and the police have also spread to other cities, the Associated Press reports, including in Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta.
On Tuesday, Khan posted a video, saying: “Police are here to send me to jail. They think if Imran Khan goes to jail, this nation will go to sleep. You have to prove them wrong … [If] something happens to me, if they send me to jail, or if I am killed, you have to show you can fight without me as well.”
The dramatic scenes come months after an attempted assassination on Khan in Wazirabad district.
What is next for Khan?
The former Prime Minister could still be arrested since the Lahore high court’s ruling only lasts until Friday at 10 a.m. local time.
The response of Khan’s massive supporter base if he is arrested will depend on whether or how quickly Khan is released.
Still, such a move would likely fire up his support base; it would reinforce his narrative that the government is repressive and “focused on arresting an opposition leader on spurious politically driven charges” instead of addressing the country’s economic crisis, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Khan has accused the government of trying to arrest him as a ploy to stop him from competing in a general election this year. “The reason why this is happening is not because I broke any law,” he told the AFP news agency after police withdrew from his home. “They want me in jail so that I cannot contest elections.”
“The government would prefer that he gives himself up voluntarily, because images of police breaking down the doors to take Khan by force would fire off a support base in a much bigger way than if he were simply to walk out the house into a police car,” Kugelman adds.
The Islamabad High Court is also expected to deliver a verdict on Wednesday on another plea from Khan’s centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party challenging the arrest warrant.
Read More: Why Pakistan Is Facing a Growing Food Crisis
How did Khan get embroiled in legal turmoil?
Khan, a former cricket player, was ousted from his seat as Prime Minister last April after a no-confidence vote in parliament. He claimed without evidence that his removal was illegal and a conspiracy by his political opponents and the U.S.
Khan has been accused of selling state gifts and not fully declaring assets while serving as Prime Minister. Police previously said they would arrest Khan in connection with corruption and “terrorism” cases. On Sunday, the Pakistani government released a sweeping report on foreign gifts retained by public office holders from 2002 to 2022. Khan was said to have received multiple wristwatches and ornaments.
The Pakistani government also charged Khan with “terrorism” after he criticized top officials for arresting his chief of staff; law enforcement characterized his response as threatening.
What do Khan’s supporters think of the charges?
Khan’s supporters view the many charges against him as politically motivated. “Khan supporters think that he’s not corrupt and that he is being targeted in a political witch hunt,” says the Wilson Center’s Kugelman.
“It’s not surprising in the sense that the government has been saying for months that it was going to arrest Khan, because he has repeatedly failed to show up to court,” Kugelman adds. “What makes today different is that the government appears to mean business.”
Videos posted by Khan’s PTI on social media showed his supporters celebrating after security forces stationed outside his residence pulled back, Al Jazeera reported.
“A moment of joy for the workers who had been fighting for 21 hours to send back the police force from Imran Khan’s residence for a third time,” a tweet posted by the PTI in Urdu language said.
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