Pakistan braces for more unrest amid fears of Imran Khan's arrest

Pakistan's former premier Imran Khan said the police have surrounded his house in the eastern city of Lahore to potentially arrest him again, stoking concerns of a repeat of the violent clashes

Imran Khan, (Photo: Bloomberg)

Imran Khan, (Photo: Bloomberg)

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By Faseeh Mangi and Kamran Haider

Pakistan’s former premier Imran Khan said the police have surrounded his house in the eastern city of Lahore to potentially arrest him again, stoking concerns of a repeat of the violent clashes between his supporters and security forces last week.
A minister in Punjab province claimed Khan was sheltering dozens of people, who allegedly attacked state and military property. The ex-cricket star, who denies the allegations, was given until 2 p.m. local time, Thursday, to hand over the suspects. 
This marks a further escalation in the showdown between Khan, 70, and the military that has an outsized influence on security and domestic politics. In recent days, the army has publicly condemned those who they have identified as Khan supporters for instigating last week’s attacks and vowed to try the perpetrators in military courts.   

“This is the most unprecedented crackdown,” Khan told the UK’s Channel 4 in an interview posted on Thursday morning. “In 27 years of my party’s existence, we have never indulged in violent protests, now 7,500 people have been arrested in my party. All the senior leadership has been arrested.” 
Khan has called for a judicial commission headed by the chief justice to probe the attacks on state and military property. He has warned the government may take the next step of banning his party since it has started calling the group a terrorist organization. 

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“There are no raid or arrest plans as of now. The deployment is normal and routine,” a Lahore police spokesman said by phone. Khan’s residence already had a heavy police contingent present outside for security but this was also the scene of at least two other attempts to arrest him in March.
The politician, known for his firebrand speeches, was dramatically arrested last Tuesday in the country’s capital Islamabad by paramilitary troops in relation to a corruption case. The Supreme Court later ordered his release calling his detention illegal and Khan’s legal team has obtained protective bail for scores of cases to prevent another arrest. 
At least eight people were killed and hundreds injured in the clashes that broke out between Khan’s supporters and security forces following his arrest. The escalating political crisis takes place as Pakistan faces its worst economic distress in decades, including Asia’s fastest inflation, and is struggling to revive a $6.7 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.

Khan was ousted as premier by a no confidence vote in April last year and has since sought to return to power by pushing for early elections. His rival, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, rejected his demands and said the government will complete its term that ends in August. 
To force national polls, Khan has pushed for by-elections and his party has dissolved the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it has majorities. The government has refused to hold those polls, saying there’s inadequate funds and these provincial elections should be held at the same time as the national vote later this year. 

Khan remains wildly popular with Pakistanis, with an opinion survey showing that a majority blame the current government for the economic crisis and the tough IMF reforms. His appearance at rallies often draws tens of thousands of people.
It was at one such rally in November that Khan was shot in the leg. He blamed the government and the military for orchestrating an assassination attempt, which they have strongly denied. Things came to a head earlier in May when Khan revived those allegations at a weekend gathering and on social media, prompting the military to have a very public war of words with him before his arrest last week. 

Khan’s allegations stem from Pakistan’s own history where no prime minister has served a full five-year term in office. Those who lasted more than two years were either exiled or killed, including Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 during a campaign stop in an attack similar to the one against Khan in November. 
“They are too scared for elections because they are scared I will win,” Khan later told Al Jazeera, referring to the military and the ruling coalition. “They are doing everything to make sure I am out of the election race.”

First Published: May 18 2023 | 8:16 AM IST

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