LAHORE: Pakistan police halted an attempt to arrest former prime minister Imran Khan Wednesday, ending a siege of his residence after violent clashes with hundreds of his supporters. Police and paramilitary rangers retreated from Khan’s home in the Zaman Park suburb of Lahore and abandoned a series of roadblocks and checkpoints leading to the area.
“The police and rangers sent to harm Imran Khan were pushed back by the people,” his official Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party tweeted, along with video of supporters celebrating outside his house. Police had fought pitched battles with Khan’s supporters throughout the night, firing fusillades of teargas and dodging rocks thrown by angry crowds.
A Lahore High Court order seen by AFP told police to “halt the operation forthwith and withdraw” pending the result of a hearing in Islamabad over the arrest warrant for Khan. Khan was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote last year, and has been snarled in dozens of legal cases as he campaigns for early elections and a return to office.
“The reason why this is happening is not because I broke any law. They want me in jail so that I cannot contest elections,” he told AFP in an interview at his home. “This abduction had nothing to do with rule of law. It had everything against rule of law, the law of jungle to grab me and put me in jail and keep me in jail for months, because there was so many cases, they would have just kept me in jail. And the whole idea was to miss the elections.”
On Wednesday morning hundreds of PTI supporters had ringed Khan’s residence in the plush neighborhood, holding off fresh attempts by police to storm the premises. Video circulating on social media – much distributed by official PTI accounts – showed several bloodied supporters and others struggling to cope with tear gas. A PTI official tweeted that there was “an urgent need” for first aid kits at the Zaman Park neighborhood.
Khan later tweeted pictures of bullet casings purportedly collected from the scene, but a Punjab government official denied live rounds were fired. An official of the Islamabad High Court said Khan’s legal team had been told to approach a lower court to seek a suspension of his arrest warrant and undertake for the former premier to appear in person at a hearing on Saturday.
Khan, 70, had been summoned to answer accusations he did not declare gifts received during his time as prime minister, or the profit made from selling them. Officers first made an attempt to arrest him earlier this month, but said the politician was “reluctant to surrender”, without offering further details. Khan has been pressuring the coalition government that replaced him, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with popular rallies and daily addresses.
Sharif said on Wednesday that Khan considered himself “above the law”. “He is defying each and every court of the country. It’s naked defiance,” he told reporters. Last year the former international cricket star was shot in the leg during a political rally, an assassination bid he blamed on Sharif. As the political drama unfolds ahead of an election due by October, Pakistan is in the grip of a stark economic downturn, risking default if help cannot be secured from the International Monetary Fund.
The security situation is also deteriorating with a spate of deadly attacks on police headquarters, linked to the Pakistani Taleban. “The standoff in Lahore reflects the worst state of affairs in the country,” said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, an author, political analyst and human rights activist. “On one side, it is failure of police and the law enforcement agencies… on the other, this has been a new trend in the South Asian politics – that a political leader is defying the arrest by using his workers and supporters.” – AFP