Imran Khan supporters clash with police in Pakistan as former PM defies arrest attempts

The cricketer-turned-politician is wanted in court on corruption charges

PTI chairman Imran Khan displaying tear gas shells fired at his residence in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday. EPA/PTI
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Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan defied attempts to arrest him and remained in his house in Lahore as thousands of his supporters clashed with police outside.

A video posted on social media by his supporters from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party showed bloodied men on the street, while other images showed tear gas and water cannon being fired through the night.

The PTI is one of Pakistan’s largest political parties and is thought to have around 10 million members. For more than a year, they have been staging mass rallies in support of the Mr Khan who was ousted from office in April last year in a no-confidence vote.

Since then, Mr Khan has been in near constant confrontation with authorities. He alleges that he was pushed out of office by a US-led conspiracy, a charge the US and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif deny.

Mr Khan has also been charged with terrorism offences after allegedly inciting violence against police officers and a judge.

We are here basically to execute the warrants and to arrest him
Syed Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari, Islamabad Police

Mr Khan has subsequently made several court appearances under Pakistan’s terrorism act, while saying that one of his close aides was tortured in police custody. He is also accused of corruption after allegedly failing to declare gifts from foreign governments.

The escalating stand-off between his supporters and security forces has led to multiple threats by the PTI to march on the capital city and there were clashes near the parliament in May last year.

“If Imran Khan is arrested … we will take over Islamabad,” said former PTI cabinet minister Ali Amin Gandapur in August.

Before dawn, Mr Khan made a video address from his residence near Zaman Park, saying his house had been bombarded with tear gas.

“I am telling the entire nation today that they are ready once again, they're going to come again,” he said. “They will tear gas our people and do other such things, but you should know that they have no justification to do so.

“The way the police attack our people … there is no precedent for this.

“Water cannons, tear gas … they shelled inside the house where there were servants and women.”

It is the second time in recent weeks that police have been sent from the capital Islamabad to Mr Khan's home in the eastern city of Lahore to serve an arrest warrant after he missed several court dates linked to a corruption case, citing security concerns.

“We are here basically to execute the warrants and to arrest him,” Syed Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari, deputy inspector general of Islamabad Police, told reporters outside Mr Khan's residence on Tuesday.

Officers were met by hundreds of Mr Khan’s supporters, some wielding sticks and hurling stones, draped in the red-and-green PTI flag.

Police fired a water cannon and tear gas on the crowds as they attempted to clear a path to Mr Khan's house, holding signs plastered with the arrest warrant for the 70-year-old opposition leader.

Avoiding bloodshed

PTI deputy leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters that “we want to be peaceful”.

Mr Qureshi insisted police should deliver the arrest warrant to Mr Khan and said he would “try to find a solution to avoid bloodshed”.

Mr Khan has been summoned to court to answer accusations he did not declare gifts received during his time as prime minister, or the profit made from selling them.

The first attempt officers made to detain the one-time cricket superstar was thwarted because he was “reluctant to surrender”, police said.

Mr Khan has been pressuring the coalition government that replaced him, led by Mr Sharif, with rallies and daily addresses.

Last year, he was shot in the leg at a demonstration, an assassination attempt he blamed on Mr Sharif.

As the political drama unfolds ahead of an election due no later than October, Pakistan is in the grip of a stark economic downturn, risking default if help cannot be secured from the International Monetary Fund.

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

Updated: March 15, 2023, 3:08 PM