Pakistan: Police failed to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan after clash

Pakistani police on Wednesday conceded defeat in arresting former prime minister Imran Khan at his home in Lahore, citing a political conspiracy after overnight violent clashes with hundreds of his supporters.

AFP correspondents and witnesses near Mr Khan’s home in the affluent Zaman Park suburb of Lahore said security forces which had been present for several hours retreated after erecting several roadblocks and checkpoints.

Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Justice Movement) posted on its Twitter account, “The police and guards sent to harm Imran Khan have been driven out by the people.”

A video posted by PTI showed Mr Khan shaking hands with dozens of people inside his garden and cheering on celebrating supporters outside.

Clashes broke out on the night of Tuesday into Wednesday between Mr Khan’s supporters and angry mobs throwing stones and police firing tear gas.

Imran Khan told AFP at the end of the day, “The reason for this process is not because I broke the law. They want me in jail so that I cannot participate in the election.”

“This forced arrest has nothing to do with the rule of law”, condemned the former prime minister, denouncing the “law of the jungle”.

The former prime minister was ousted by a no-confidence motion in April 2022 and has since faced several legal proceedings. He is very popular and hopes to return to power in October’s legislative elections.

– Arrest warrant upheld –

This is the second time this month that police were sent to his house to serve an arrest warrant, but to no avail.

The former prime minister has evaded several court summons citing security concerns. His lawyers say he was released on bail.

Imran Khan, 70, has been summoned to court over allegations that he failed to declare all diplomatic gifts he received during his tenure and earned money by reselling some of them.

“The PTI leader does not have bail for this particular case,” Islamabad police spokesman Muhammad Taqi Jawad told AFP.

A spokesman said the arrest warrant would remain in force regardless of the situation on the ground.

Earlier in the day, Khan posted a video in which he was seen sitting at a table decorated with used tear gas canisters, with Pakistani and PTI flags in the background.

“They will use tear gas shells against our people and do other things like that, but you have to know that they have no reason to do that,” he said.

Hundreds of his supporters surrounded his residence on Wednesday to thwart police efforts to arrest him.

– “Staging” –

Videos circulating on social media – largely released by PTI – showed several supporters and others struggling with tear gas. A PTI official tweeted that there was an “urgent need” for first aid kits.

“The way the police are attacking our people is unprecedented,” Mr Khan denounced in the morning. “Clearly the demand for ‘arrest’ was only a set-up, as the real intention is to kidnap and kill,” he said.

The Islamabad High Court has convened a meeting on Wednesday to consider a fresh petition by PTI seeking to stay Khan’s arrest, which could worsen the situation.

Since his ouster, Imran Khan has put pressure on the government of his successor Shehbaz Sharif by holding large gatherings. He also dissolved the two provincial assemblies controlled by his party in an attempt to hold early elections, which the government refused.

Mr Sharif told reporters on Wednesday Mr Khan considered himself “above the law”. “They defied all the courts in the country. This is pure and simple provocation,” he added.

In November, the former cricket star was shot in the leg at a political rally. He attributed an assassination attempt to Shehbaz Sharif.

These events are taking place in a tense context: the country of more than 220 million inhabitants is in the grip of severe economic difficulties, with rapidly rising inflation, insufficient foreign exchange reserves and a deadlock in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

The security situation is also deteriorating with a series of deadly attacks on police linked to the Pakistani Taliban.

Political analyst and human rights activist Tauseef Ahmad Khan said, “The Lahore standoff shows how bad the situation in the country has become.”

“On the one hand, it is a failure of the police and law enforcement. On the other, it is a new trend in South Asian politics: a political leader challenges arrest using his allies and supporters,” he said.

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