Policemen retreat after firing teargas shells towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan near a burning car during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Karachi on May 9, 2023InternationalIndiaAfricaOleg BurunovPolice have nabbed hundreds of Imran Khan supporters in a crackdown that came after scores of people across Pakistan took to the streets to say “no” to the ousted prime minister’s detention. At least two people have been killed in violent protests that broke out in a number of Pakistani cities following the arrest of the country’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday. Why was the ex-PM detained and what is known about the unrest? Sputnik explores.
Why Was Khan Arrested?
The May 9 arrest of Imran Khan, who served as the 22nd PM of Pakistan from 2018 to 2023, has been linked to a number of factors, including his alleged involvement in corruption and money laundering. Additionally, it has been suggested that his detention may be politically motivated, with the current Pakistan prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, reportedly seeking to discredit his predecessor before the upcoming elections.The latest news on Khan’s arrest indicates that he is being held in custody while his case is being investigated. While the reasons behind his detention are yet to be clarified, more information is expected to emerge as the probe progresses.Abdullah Khan, Director of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies think tank, has meanwhile suggested that Khan’s arrest is “part of an overall conflict” between the ex-PM and “current rulers who see him as a threat to their politics and power.”
"Khan has also openly challenged Pakistan's powerful military establishment, which, in fact, had supported him to come into power back in 2018. The ruling political alliance is running away from elections because all the opinion polls suggest Khan's party may come into power with bigger margins if immediate elections are held. So we can say the arrest is a politically motivated action," Abdullah Khan said.
He argued that the Imran Khan case is “a weaker one”, and that “he may get bail.” At the same time, the expert did not rule out that Khan “may remain in prison for some time” because “there are other cases pending.”WorldImran Khan’s Party Accuses Pakistani Authorities of ‘Endangering’ His Life25 November 2022, 10:53 GMTThe expert was echoed by Vladimir Sotnikov from the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, who told Sputnik that Pakistan’s internal factors played a significant role in Khan’s detention.
"The matter is that in addition to the fact that he tried to pursue an independent course in [Pakistan’s] foreign policy, there was also a very clear rejection of his domestic policy, primarily from the [country’s] military circles," Soitnikov noted, adding that Khan "challenged traditional political circles."
The Russian analyst suggested that the ex-PM “wanted to move away from US dependence” and instead focus on developing relations with Russia, something he was not allowed to do.
"Let's see how the developments will unfold. I don't rule out that if there are [more] mass demonstrations in Pakistan, […] then maybe Imran Khan will be able to somehow still participate in political activities. His arrest is actually connected with the fact that they tried (and finally they have succeeded) to prevent him from ruling the country," Sotnikov asserted.
When asked about why Khan’s arrest took place, political observer Dr. Rashid, in turn, insisted in an interview with Sputnik that the country’s establishment wanted to convey a message to the Supreme Court.”Today’s episode of Khan’s arrest has achieved two things for the government and the establishment. First is the fact that the court’s sanctity has been hurt – Islamabad High Court’s Chief Justice’s Office was attacked by the police, from where they literally dragged Khan out after breaking the windows,” the observer said, adding that “the move is absolutely unconstitutional and unlawful.”
According to Dr. Rashid, "With this gesture they are conveying a message to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan who after May 14 was likely to take action against some big names in the government for contempt of court, because the government is not announcing elections on May 14 as was ordered by the Supreme Court. Hence, this move today was done to pressurize the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and to show him that they are not afraid to barge into the courts."
The same tone was struck by Editor of the Pakistan Daily Hamza Azhar Salam, who told Sputnik that “it’s a very interesting story because even before his ousting, Khan alleged that the US was trying to remove him from power.”However, Salam added: “Khan’s war in Pakistan is no longer against the US conspiracy, but it’s against the Pakistani military establishment which perhaps colluded” with America.
"I don't think it will be very easy for Pakistan's political engineers to contain Imran Khan's rage, because the more they try to stop him, the more powerful he is emerging," Salam argued.
What Instigated Tuesday’s Protests?
Khan, who is the chairman of the country’s opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was taken into custody following a hearing of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the Al-Qadir Trust case. He was seeking bail in several charges filed against him.Footage shows dozens of security officers forcibly removing the 70-year-old cricket star-turned-politician from the court, then bundling him into a police vehicle.Later that day, PTI’s spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said that the ex-Pakistani prime minister had been kidnapped.”Former PM Imran Khan has been abducted from Court premises, scores of lawyers and general people have been tortured, Imran Khan has been whisked away by unknown people to an unknown location,” Chaudhry said on social media.PTI then posted a video on its official social network account showing Khan’s lawyer severely injured. The lawyer was beaten inside IHC premises, the party claimed. Shortly after, the PTI urged people to start staging mass protests in response to Khan’s purported abduction.”It’s your time, people of Pakistan. Khan has always stood for you, now it’s time to stand for him,” the party tweeted, adding that this is a “now or never opportunity”. The post was supported by a hashtag saying “Release Imran Khan” and a photo of Khan’s arrest with “Shutdown Pakistan” inscribed over it.
How Did Violence Spark?
In the hours after Khan was detained, violence was reported from the capital Islamabad as well as Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Mardan, and other Pakistani cities.Protesters set police vehicles on fire and damaged government property as part of the riots, according to media reports.
In Islamabad, hundreds of PTI activists blocked the main Kashmir highway, which suspended traffic on either side of the road, while in Lahore, during a demonstration in the Cantonment area, a large number of PTI protesters stormed into the residence of the Corps Commander and smashed the gate and window-panes.
In Karachi and Rawalpindi, protesters clashed with police, whose media said threw teargas shells to control the crowd. Videos from the spot showed the activists chanting “Release Imran Khan,” and “Shut down Pakistan” slogans.
What’s the Fallout?
The death toll from Tuesday’s clashes between security forces and Khan supporters currently stand at two. © AFP 2023 / ASIF HASSANPakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran gather beside a burning water tanker on a block road during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Karachi on May 9, 2023Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran gather beside a burning water tanker on a block road during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Karachi on May 9, 2023Government officials said that in Islamabad, five police officers had been injured and 43 protesters arrested, while in Quetta, six police officers were wounded during the riots.
Some mobile internet services remain inaccessible across Pakistan, with the country’s telecommunication authorities saying that they had suspended services on instructions from the Interior Ministry. The authorities have restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms amid the mounting violence.
Schools remain closed, some highways have been blocked and there is little traffic plying roads in major cities.The protests are expected to continue in the next few days, with some demonstrators seeking to march to Islamabad and the PTI calling for a nationwide strike.”This was last night, the crowds will be bigger today to protect Imran Khan!” PTI tweeted on Wednesday, in what was accompanied by a clip of a mass protest on Tuesday evening.Commenting on the protests, Editor of the Pakistan Daily Hamza Azhar Salam told Sputnik about what he described as “history in the making”.“You know, today is a huge day in Pakistan’s history because for the first time, we saw unarmed civilian protesters,” he pointed out.