Clashes between Pakistani police and Imran Khan’s supporters escalated outside the former prime minister’s home in Lahore on Wednesday as officers failed to arrest the embattled opposition leader for not showing up to court on corruption charges.
The doorstep of Khan’s home in the eastern city remained a battleground on Wednesday as riot police swarmed the wider Zaman Park neighborhood and the violence stretched into a second day.
Khan’s supporters hurled stones and projectiles at police while people inside his residence lit fires after officers fired tear gas into the compound.
The violence began on Tuesday as Khan’s supporters gathered outside his residence to protest against attempts to arrest him. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons in an effort to disperse them, footage shared by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and local media showed.
Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan chant anti government slogans as they gather outside his residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
Paramilitary troops take position as riot police officer fire tear gas to disperse the supporters of Imran Khan.
Police later cut the electricity supply to Khan’s home and turned street lights off in the neighborhood, according to Khan’s spokesperson and other backers.
A total of 69 people have been injured in the violence in Lahore so far, including 34 police officers, a Pakistani police official told CNN on the condition of anonymity, adding that people inside Khan’s residence were armed with guns.
Amid the standoff, Khan on Wednesday signed a surety bond stating he would appear in court on March 18. However, the handwritten note did not say whether he would appear in person or send a representative to the Islamabad High Court.
Protests had also broken out in major cities across Pakistan on Tuesday in support of Khan, who released a video on social media asking his followers to “come out” in support of his movement if he is detained.
‘Mockery of the judicial system’
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last April, has since led a popular campaign against the current government, accusing it of colluding with the military to remove him from office.
The cricket legend turned politician has accused Pakistani authorities of attempting to arrest him to remove him from upcoming by-elections in April and a general election scheduled for October.
“[The government], they’re petrified that if I come into power, I will hold them accountable,” Khan told CNN on Tuesday. “They also know that even if I go to jail, we will swing the elections no matter what they do.”
The former leader says the charges against him are politically motivated and has warned that attempts to arrest him could lead to a dangerous escalation in political violence in the country. He also believes that Pakistan’s ruling coalition might eventually use a “pretext of violence” to delay the upcoming votes.
In a statement to CNN, Pakistan’s information minister denied any political involvement in the case.
“The government has nothing to do with the arrest (of Khan), and the arrest has nothing to do with elections. The police is only complying with the orders of the court,” Marriyum Aurangzeb said.
Police use water cannon to disperse supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan during clashes, in Lahore on March 15, 2023.
Imran Khan backers throw stones at riot police officers firing tear gas on March 15, 2023.
“Instead of cooperating with law enforcement officials, Imran Khan is breaking the law, defying court orders and using his party workers as human shields to evade arrest and stoke unrest,” she added.
In an interview that aired Tuesday in the United States, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Khan faced arrest “because of his ego.”
Speaking to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Zadari said Khan had repeatedly refused to appear in court and fight his case, often reasoning that he’s “too important” to face trial.
“What we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks have been a complete mockery of the judicial system in Pakistan, of rule of law, of the constitution in Pakistan – where had he gone to court, there was probably no reason he had to face imminent arrest,” Zadari said. “He’s violated court orders time and time again.”
Imran Khan, Pakistan's former prime minister, is pictured in Lahore on Jan. 24, 2023.
Betsy Joles/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Missed court date
Khan faces allegations of illegally purchasing and selling gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while he was in office, which he has rejected as “biased.”
On Monday, the Islamabad High Court issued an arrest warrant against Khan over the case to have him presented before the court on March 18.
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“On the order of the court, the person who ran away from the court will be arrested and arrested and produced there,” tweeted Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Tuesday.
But Khan’s lawyers have argued he has previously failed to appear in court because he cannot leave his residence in Lahore due to security concerns. He can only make appearances via video link, according to his legal team.
The political upheaval comes at a time when Pakistan’s government waits for a delayed bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which will help with the country’s cost of living crisis and ailing economy.
Khan has only been arrested once in 2007 by then President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who died earlier this year.
But he told CNN Tuesday that he was “mentally prepared to spend the night in a cell.”
“I want a proper warrant of arrest and I want to see that, my lawyers want to see the warrant,” Khan said.
“It’s a matter of time. I’m convinced they will come in and arrest me, I’m prepared for it,” he said, adding: “I know what the intention is. They want to get me out of the race. They want to get me out of the match so that they can win the elections.”