Imran Khan’s arrest imminent; police and supporters clash

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has previously failed to appear before a court in Islamabad to answer charges in a graft case against him in the Toshakhana case

March 14, 2023 05:21 pm | Updated March 15, 2023 10:16 am IST - Lahore

A supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party scuffles with riot police officers outside Khan’s residence, in Lahore, on March 14, 2023.

A supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party scuffles with riot police officers outside Khan’s residence, in Lahore, on March 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 14, 2023, asked his supporters to stand up for their rights and continue the struggle even if he is killed or arrested, hours after clashes erupted between the police and his party workers who gathered outside his residence here to foil his arrest in the Toshakhana case.

The police operation triggered clashes between Khan’s supporters and police in the country’s major cities, including Karachi, Islamabad, the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan.

Early Wednesday, Mr. Khan emerged from his house to meet with his supporters, who faced tear gas and police batons the whole night to save him from arrest. He said he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 under his arrest warrant, but police did not accept the offer.

About a dozen police and some 35 of Mr. Khan’s supporters were reported injured. Tear gas shells and pieces of bricks littered the pavement as Khan’s followers fought back with batons they had brought to resist police, who were preparing for a final effort to arrest Mr. Khan.

Police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse Khan’s supporters, who reportedly hurled stones at policemen, resulting in injuries.

In a video message, Mr. Khan urged his supporters to come out for real freedom as police arrived to arrest him. “They think that after my arrest, the nation will fall asleep. You have to prove them wrong,” 70-year-old Khan said in the video.

“God has given me everything, and I am fighting this battle for you. I have been fighting this battle all my life, and I will continue to do so,” he said.

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“If something happens to me and I am sent to jail or if I am killed, you have to prove that you will struggle without Imran Khan and not accept the slavery of these thieves and of the one person who has been making decisions for the country,” he said.

Soon after his speech, protests broke out in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Vehari, Peshawar, Quetta, and Mianwali.

A senior police officer of Islamabad police said that his team has come to Lahore to arrest the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman in the Toshakhana case.

Mr. Khan has been in the crosshairs for buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch he had received as the premier at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana and selling them for profit.

TV footage showed police slowly approaching the Zaman Park residence of Khan behind an armoured vehicle that was dispersing his supporters with a water cannon.

Police officers detain a supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, during clashes ahead of an election campaign rally, in Lahore, Pakistan on March 8, 2023.

Police officers detain a supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, during clashes ahead of an election campaign rally, in Lahore, Pakistan on March 8, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Mr. Khan’s supporters, who had covered their faces with pieces of cloth, pelted stones at policemen.

The Islamabad police said that five of its officials, including Deputy Inspector General (Operations) Shahzad Bukhari, who was leading the police team, had been injured after stones were pelted from the roof of Zaman Park.

“Despite the pelting of stones, police refrained from taking extreme measures,” Islamabad police said on Twitter.

PTI leader Shireen Mazari shared a video in which tear gas could be seen entering Khan’s residence.

“They’re shelling Imran Khan’s house too, a leader who requested everyone to stay peaceful and patient. Democracy seems to be suspended in the country, no?” the official Twitter handle of the party tweeted.

Intermittent tear gas shelling is ongoing at Zaman Park as police is currently camped out at a security barrier outside the neighbourhood, Dawn newspaper reported. Khan’s supporters, however, have laid siege to the path leading to his residence.

PTI’s deputy leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi earlier said that the party leadership is ready to find out a “possible way out” to avert bloodshed.

“Show me the warrant. I will first read and understand it. Then, I will speak to Imran Khan and my lawyers,” he told the police.

Mr. Khan’s party moved the Islamabad High Court against the arrest warrants issued in the Toshakhana case.

Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq fixed the hearing for Wednesday while rejecting the party’s request to conduct the hearing today.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, however, said that officials would arrest Khan in accordance with the court’s directives and produce him in court.

President Arif Alvi has said that he was “deeply saddened” by Tuesday’s events. “Unhealthy revenge politics. Poor priorities of [a] government of a country that should focus on economic misery of the people,” he said.

“Are we destroying political landscape? Am concerned about safety and dignity of @ImranKhanPTI like that of all politicians,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the official Twitter handle of the party urged supporters and workers to gather outside the residence and ‘remain peaceful’.

A large number of PTI workers equipped with clubs and sticks assembled outside Khan’s residence to resist the police action.

The police blocked all roads leading to the house of the PTI chairman by placing containers and riot personnel took positions to launch the operation.

Senior PTI leader Farukh Habib told reporters that come what may Imran Khan would not surrender to police in fake cases.

One activist of Khan’s party was killed on Wednesday during a crackdown on his supporters who gathered outside his residence in Lahore, defying a government ban on rallies in the city.

On Monday, the Lahore police had booked Khan in a case related to the killing of the PTI worker - Ali Bilal alias Zille Shah - in a road accident.

Earlier, the Lahore police had registered an FIR against Mr. Khan and 400 others for the murder of Shah.

This is the 81th FIR against Khan since the PML-N led federal coalition came into power 11 months ago after toppling his government through a no-confidence motion.

Mr. Khan on March 13, 2023 led a march of thousands of his supporters, a day after he called off his party’s election rally following a ban on public gatherings in Punjab’s provincial capital. The former cricketer-turned-politician’s supporters threw rose petals at a convoy carrying him to Data Darbar shrine.

Mr Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.

Since his ouster, Mr. Khan has been clamouring for immediate elections to oust what he termed was an “imported government” led by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Sharif has maintained that elections will be held later this year once the parliament completes its five-year tenure.

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