Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan on Friday denounced a “reign of terror” by the successor he wishes to unseat, Shehbaz Sharif, as police searched his home for dozens of terrorism suspects he was allegedly harboring.
“Under the garb of identifying arsonists, fascist tactics have been employed by these criminals in power to silence and oppress PTI workers and supporters,” he declared.
Khan said he and his followers would not “meekly bow down to this naked show of power” because Islam taught them to “bow to no one” except Allah.
The mindset behind this unprecedented crackdown and current reign of terror that PTI and its supporters are being subjected to (that was not even witnessed during Zia and Musharraf martial laws) is that we Pakistanis are like a herd of sheep who can be terrorised enough to meekly…
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 19, 2023
Khan was referring to the Sharif government’s decision to charge members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) with terrorism for damaging government and military facilities on May 9, when Khan’s arrest on corruption charges triggered riots across the country. He was released on bail by order of the Pakistani Supreme Court a few days later and has spent most of the time since then at his home in the posh Zaman Park district of Lahore, a city in Punjab province.
Pakistani officials said Khan was harboring up to 40 alleged “terrorists” in his house. Khan insisted the destruction blamed on his PTI supporters was actually a deception operation carried out by his enemies and vociferously insisted the government investigate his theories before he would allow police to search his home. He also claims all of the hundred or so corruption cases pending against him are false charges brought for political reasons, to keep him from unseating Sharif in the snap election he incessantly demands.
On Wednesday, a large force of police officers surrounded Khan’s house, clearing away his supporters and shutting down roads as they evidently prepared for a raid. Khan predicted he would be arrested again by the end of that day.
Tensions mounted on Friday as a small team of senior police officers approached Khan’s house with a search warrant. Khan’s staff invited reporters to observe as the team went through his house.
Khan’s security chief Iftikhar Ghurman crowed to the media that police left the house “empty-handed.”
“The only thing they got here was tea and biscuits,” Ghurman boasted.
Pakistani police plan to search the Lahore home of former Prime Minister Imran Khan today, an operation that could trigger more violence as the country grapples with political and economic instability https://t.co/3koBRAriJQ
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 19, 2023
Punjab’s Information Minister Amir Mir responded that the small group of high-ranking police officials who visited Khan’s house were not raiding or searching it, but rather nailing down final details for the impending police search of the building.
Khan said on Friday he would not allow the police to search his house unless certain conditions were met. He worried that the police might plant weapons in his home as a pretext for arresting or injuring him.
“I asked them, they could come and see inside if there were any wanted men, but they said they wanted to search my home, which I couldn’t allow. If they have to search, it will be under a court order, like it said earlier, that there will be persons from both sides with a woman included,” he said.
Khan backed down in one notable respect on Friday, telling reporters that he has no axe to grind with Pakistani Army chief Gen. Asim Munir.
VOA Exclusive: Former Pakistani PM @ImranKhanPTI Denies Having Problem with Army Chief
“The problem is from his side” https://t.co/MpYYjK0jdf
— Sarah Zaman (@SarahzTV) May 19, 2023
Khan previously accused Munir of incompetence and treason, and said the general was involved in a plot to murder him. Sharif administration officials, in turn, said Khan was a traitor for undermining the powerful military with his criticism – and the military warned he could face dire consequences if he continued to “slander” it.
Khan told Voice of America News (VOA) on Friday that he “never had a problem with the army chief,” and he would never attempt to undermine the authority of the military because it is a vital force of stability in Pakistan’s turbulent politics.
“I mean, why would I – who wants to take on the army of your own country? How can you do that? I mean, no political party. And even if you win, the country goes down. You don’t want to weaken your own army,” Khan said.
“So, let me repeat, the issue is not from my side, it’s from his side. And for, for the life of [me], I can’t work out what, what is in his mind that he’s decided that whatever happens Imran Khan should not come to power,” he said, suggesting Munir is the one who has an irrational obsession with attacking him.
Khan insisted in his VOA interview that he is not encouraging his supporters to grow violent if he is arrested – but warned they might have a vigorous “reaction” beyond his control if he is taken into custody again.
“We have always said that we will stay within the constitution, within the law of the land. But protest is a democratic and constitutional right. When they tried to kill me, surely, then there should have been arson and burning and burning down buildings. It didn’t happen,” he said, referring to the assassination attempt he survived in November.
“The moment the army picked me up, there was always going to be a reaction. When they abducted me, proved by the Supreme Court that it was abduction, unlawful, there was always going to be a reaction,” he said.
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