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Monday, July 15, 2024

Former Pakistan PM Khan faces court after shock arrest prompts riots

Khan's detention follows months of political crisis and came hours after the powerful military rebuked the former international cricketer for alleging that a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan will appear Wednesday in a special court at the capital’s police headquarters to answer graft charges, a day after his shock arrest prompted violent nationwide protests.

Khan’s detention follows months of political crisis and came hours after the powerful military rebuked the former international cricketer for alleging that a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.

Some protesters took out their wrath on the military, torching the residence of the corps commander in Lahore and laying siege to the army’s general headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

In Peshawar, a mob razed the Chaghi monument — a mountain-shaped sculpture honouring the location of Pakistan’s first nuclear test.

Police fought pitched battles with supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in cities across the country for hours on Tuesday night.

Local media reported two deaths in those clashes.

Tempers appeared to have cooled on Wednesday morning, but there was a huge security presence across the capital, particularly outside the so-called police lines where the special court will convene.

Authorities also ordered schools shuttered across the country, and continued restricting access to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

“At a time we are already struggling to feed our children, further uncertainty has been created,” Farooq Bhatti, a van driver, told AFP in Rawalpindi Wednesday morning.

“The violence will not serve anyone… everyone will be affected… but I doubt the decision makers care.”

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, vice chairman of the PTI, urged supporters to keep protesting in a “lawful and peaceful manner”, adding party lawyers would file multiple appeals and petitions against Khan’s arrest.

Read more: Congressman reacts to Imran Khan’s arrest

– Military rebuke –

The charge that led to Khan’s undoing Tuesday was brought by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s top anti-corruption body, which said he had ignored repeated summons to appear in court.

Khan has faced dozens of charges since being ousted in April — a tactic analysts say successive Pakistan governments have used to silence their opponents.

He could be barred from holding public office if convicted, which would exclude him from elections scheduled for later this year.

Khan’s arrest came a day after the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.

The rebuke late Monday underscored how far Khan’s relations have deteriorated with the military, which backed his rise to power in 2018 but withdrew its support ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence that ousted him last year.

Read more: Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan arrested as aides call for nationwide protest

“The senior army leadership is uninterested in repairing the rift between itself and Khan,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.

“So with this arrest it’s likely sending a message that the gloves are very much off.”

Reaction from abroad was swift.

The United States wants to “make sure that whatever happens in Pakistan is consistent with the rule of law, with the constitution,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday during a press conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Washington.

“We want to see peaceful democracy in that country,” Cleverly added.

Pakistan is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis, with Khan pressuring the struggling coalition government for early elections.

He has been increasingly outspoken against the establishment, relying on near-fanatical support from the huge crowds that accompany his public appearances to protect him from arrest.

But authorities pounced during what was supposed to be a routine court appearance Tuesday.

Khan, who has a pronounced limp since being shot during an assassination attempt last year, was manhandled by dozens of paramilitary rangers into an armoured car inside the Islamabad High Court premises.

At a weekend rally in Lahore, Khan repeated claims that senior intelligence officer Major-General Faisal Naseer was involved in an assassination attempt last year during which he was shot in the leg.

The military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing said in a statement that “this fabricated and malicious allegation is extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable”.

The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone gunman, who is now in custody and who confessed in a video controversially leaked to media.

Pakistan’s military, the world’s sixth largest, holds undue influence over the nation.

It staged at least three coups since the country gained independence in 1947 and ruled for more than three decades.