In a temporary relief for Imran Khan, a Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered the police to stop its operation outside the former Prime Minister’s residence in Lahore to arrest him in a corruption case, amidst clashes between the security personnel and his supporters.
The Zaman Park in Lahore where Mr. Khan lives remained under siege for the last two days and the government sent the elite Rangers to aid police teams who struggled on Tuesday to muscle their way through a ring of enraged Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) supporters to arrest party chairman Mr. Khan.
The police, with their riot gear on, closed in on Mr. Khan’s home to comply with the court orders to arrest the 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician in the Toshakhana case.
However, the police withdrew from the area after the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered them to stop their operation at Zaman Park till 10 a.m. on Thursday.
The LHC summoned the Punjab inspector-general, chief secretary and Islamabad police (operations) head on a petition filed by PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeking order for the government to stop the police action at Khan’s residence.
Mr. Khan’s party on Tuesday challenged the police operation in the Lahore High Court, requesting it to direct the government to end its bid to arrest the party chief.
“IGP Punjab Dr Usman Anwar appeared before the court and told it that police had to launch the operation as Islamabad police had brought an arrest warrant for Imran Khan in the Toshakhana gifts case. We had to implement this order under the law. He said some 59 policemen have been injured during the clashes with the PTI workers,” a court official told PTI.
“The PTI advocate told the court that the sessions court Islamabad had issued the order to ensure the presence of Khan in the court on March 18 in the Toshakhana gifts case… why police operation was launched to arrest him four days before, requesting it intervenes to save human lives,” the official said.
LHC’s Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh asked the PTI counsel whether the Islamabad High Court (IHC) is hearing the PTI plea to cancel the arrest warrants of Mr. Khan in the Toshakhana case.
“The counsel informed the judge that the IHC is hearing Khan’s petition. On this Justice Sheikh said let the IHC decide the matter and meanwhile the government stop the police operation forthwith,” the official said.
Meanwhile, a large number of lawyers also converged on Mall Road in Lahore to protest against the police operation.
The district and sessions court in Islamabad on February 28 issued non-bailable arrest orders against Mr. Khan in the Toshakhana case about the concealment of the proceeds from the sale of state gifts.
The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday heard the petition by Mr. Khan against arrest orders. He also submitted an affidavit through his counsel that he would appear before the court at the next hearing on March 18.
IHC Chief Justice Amir Farooq ordered Mr. Khan to present the petition in the trial court and refused to suspend the arrest warrant.
On March 13, Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Khan and instructed the police to present him before the courts on March 18.
Mr. Khan was disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan last year in October for not sharing details of the sales. The election body later filed a complaint with the district court to punish him under criminal laws for selling the gifts he had received as prime minister of the country.
After Pakistan Rangers and police personnel retreated, Mr. Khan came out of his residence, donning a gas mask, and met the party workers. His supporters cheered “chasing the Rangers away”.
In a tweet, the party said that more workers were reaching Zaman Park and vowed not to let the “impure intentions” of the coalition government succeed.
Earlier in the day, authorities deployed the elite Rangers outside Mr. Khan’s residence, a day after clashes with police left over 70 people injured, including 59 policemen.
Lahore’s Zaman Park area was turned into a battleground after Mr. Khan’s defiant supporters engaged in pitched battles with policemen on Tuesday to stop them from arresting their leader in the Toshakhana case, resulting in injuries on both sides. Khan’s supporters clashed repeatedly with police overnight.
The injured were shifted to Lahore’s hospitals and the police arrested dozens of Mr. Khan’s supporters.
Mr. Khan has been in the crosshairs for buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch he had received as the premier at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana and selling them for profit.
Established in 1974, the Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.
In a video address to the nation from his residence, Mr. Khan earlier said that he has asked the military establishment to end this ‘ tamasha‘ (drama)”.
The Pakistani TV channels did not broadcast Mr. Khan’s speech. His party said the media blackout the speech’s coverage on the order from the “top”.
“My house has been under heavy attack since yesterday afternoon. Latest attack by Rangers, pitting the largest political party against the army. This is what PDM and the enemies of Pakistan want. No lessons learnt from the East Pakistan tragedy,” he said, referring to the creation of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971.
Mr. Khan said he had prepared his bag to go to jail but his party workers didn’t allow him to surrender, fearing a threat to his life in police custody.
“They (PTI workers) think that I will be tortured and killed in custody because those involved in an attempt on my life are in power,” he said.
“Clearly ‘arrest’ claim was mere drama because the real intent is to abduct & assassinate. From tear gas & water cannons, they have now resorted to firing. I signed a surety bond last evening, but the DIG refused to even entertain it. There is no doubt of their mala fide intent,” Mr. Khan said in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
Mr. Khan’s party claimed that live bullets were fired at the party workers present on the roads leading to Mr. Khan’s residence.
Fearing the worst, various PTI leaders — including Mr. Khan himself — Tuesday appealed to party workers to rush to Zaman Park, where they served as human shields and stood between Mr. Khan’s residence and the police.
The PTI has declared that it would not let law enforcement agencies arrest Mr. Khan as it fears he may be given poison in jail.
Mr. Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, which he alleged was part of a U.S.-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.
Since his ouster, Mr. Khan has been asking for early elections to oust what he termed an “imported government” led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Mr. Sharif has maintained that elections will be held later this year once the parliament completes its five-year tenure.