• 11 May 2023
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Imran Khan’s arrest sparks chaos and protests in Pakistan

Imran Khan’s arrest sparks chaos and protests in Pakistan

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested by Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency on Tuesday, provoking national rallies and skirmishes with police. Khan’s arrest came a day after the military issued a rare public rebuke of him for accusing a senior military official of plotting to assassinate him and blaming the former army chief for his ouster as prime minister.

Khan, who was ousted in April last year by the Supreme Court on corruption charges, was arrested at the Islamabad High Court, where he was seeking bail in a land fraud case and a money laundering case in the UK. Hundreds of paramilitary troops in riot gear surrounded Khan and led him into a black van by his arm, according to a video of the arrest.

Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), called for a “shutdown” of the country and accused the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of political victimization of key towns, including Khan’s birthplace of Lahore, PTI supporters barricaded roadways in and highways, putting the police on high alert. Along with burning tires, protesters shouted anti-judicial and anti-government chants.

The government defended Khan’s arrest as a legal and constitutional process and denied any political interference. Sharif and Khan had engaged in a war of words on Twitter, with Sharif accusing Khan of lying, taking U-turns, and attacking institutions. Khan had accused a senior military official of being behind an attack on his convoy in November that wounded him and killed two others. He also blamed the former army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for orchestrating his removal from power.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its 74-year history, issued a rare public statement on Monday, rejecting Khan’s allegations as “baseless” and “irresponsible”. The statement said that such accusations were aimed at creating divisions between the military and the civilian leadership and undermining the national security and stability of the country.

Khan’s arrest comes at a time when Pakistan is facing multiple challenges, including a severe economic crisis, a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, and strained relations with its neighbors India and Afghanistan. The opposition has been demanding electoral reforms and early elections, while the government has been seeking dialogue and consensus.

The chairman of the Senate, Sadiq Sanjrani, sought nominations from both the government and the opposition for the formation of a “political dialogue” committee to resolve the ongoing impasse over electoral reforms. Sanjrani wrote to both sides to nominate members for the special committee that would hold negotiations on issues related to free and fair elections.

Khan will be brought before an anti-graft court on Wednesday, where he faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted. His party has vowed to continue its protest campaign until he is released. Analysts say that Khan’s arrest could further polarize the political landscape and deepen the mistrust between civilian and military institutions.

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