The high court in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday ordered security forces to withdraw from the home of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, ending a standoff with a mob of his supporters that began when the police made their second attempt to serve an arrest warrant.
Khan was slapped with a non-bailable arrest warrant by an exasperated judge whose summons he has repeatedly ignored. The judge is presiding over a case in which Khan was accused of improperly acquiring gifts from foreigners while he was prime minister.
A throng of supporters from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) formed a human shield around his home in Lahore, causing the police to back down from their first attempt to take him into custody last week.
On Tuesday, the police tried again, this time attempting to disperse the mob with armored vehicles, tear gas, water cannons, and batons. The PTI mob fought back with sticks and stones, with injuries reported on both sides. Other groups of PTI supporters began demonstrating in Pakistan’s major cities, prompting concerns that the situation could disintegrate into riots across the country – an outcome PTI explicitly threatened if Khan was arrested.
The Lahore high court evidently took these threats seriously, because on Wednesday they ordered the police to pull back, ostensibly because another melee around Khan’s house would interfere with the nearby Pakistan Super League (PSL) cricket match. Cricket is enormously popular in Pakistan and Khan himself is a former star player.
A senior police official said on Wednesday that since cricket has been suspended in the past due to unrest and terrorism, at great cost to Pakistan’s economy and national pride, “we can’t afford to risk the security and safety of the PSL.”
Khan, who heatedly criticized the police for using violent tactics against his supporters, said on Twitter that he signed a “surety bond” to end the violence. The bond promises that he will appear in court in Islamabad on Saturday. Provincial officials said that if he does not appear as promised, operations to arrest him will resume after the cricket matches end on Sunday.
Khan claimed he disregarded previous orders to appear at the court because he fears for his safety, having survived an assassination attempt in November. Critics pointed out that he had no problem appearing in several other courtrooms in the same complex three weeks ago.
Khan also held a press conference on Wednesday in which he showed off a huge pile of tear gas shells he said the police fired into his compound during Tuesday’s brawl:
Astonishing scenes in Pakistan where former prime minister @ImranKhanPTI unveils scores of tear gas shells he says were fired at his residence in Lahore by police as supporters block attempts to arrest him pic.twitter.com/hnN9y7ZY6h
— christinalamb (@christinalamb) March 15, 2023
Khan stepped out to greet his supporters after the police withdrew, posing for photos while wearing a gas mask. PTI meanwhile declared victory over the police and the government of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
پاکستانی عوام پر ظلم و جبر اور فسطائیت کا یہ تاریکی باب قوم کبھی نہیں بھولے گی۔ VC: @ahmadmanzoor_93#زمان_پارک_پُہنچو pic.twitter.com/ONszeIHNrQ
— Tehreek-e-Insaf (@InsafPK) March 15, 2023
We thank also the lawyers community who stood against tyranny and fascism. InshAllah rule of law will be established! #زمان_پارک_پُہنچو pic.twitter.com/4iJgdm3SWf
— PTI (@PTIofficial) March 15, 2023
“The police and rangers sent to harm Imran Khan were pushed back by the people. More people are coming to Zaman Park and will never let the evil intentions of this imported government succeed, God willing,” PTI said through its Twitter account.
“The nation will never forget this dark chapter of oppression and fascism on the Pakistani people,” the party said of the siege at Khan’s house.
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