In LAHORE, Pakistan After violent clashes with hundreds of Imran Khan supporters, Pakistani police called off their attempt to arrest the former prime minister on Wednesday, ending the siege of his home.
The police and paramilitary rangers had to retreat from the area around Khan’s home in the affluent Lahore suburb of Zaman Park and abandon a series of roadblocks and checkpoints.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan’s official political party, tweeted, “The police and rangers sent to harm Imran Khan were pushed back by the people.” The tweet was accompanied by video of supporters celebrating outside Khan’s house.
Through the night, police engaged Khan’s supporters in fierce battle, firing fusillades of teargas and dodging rocks thrown by enraged crowds.
AFP obtained a copy of an order from the Lahore High Court instructing police to “halt the operation forthwith and withdraw” until the outcome of a hearing in Islamabad regarding the arrest warrant for Khan.
Khan, who was forced out of office by a vote of no confidence last year, is currently campaigning for early elections in an attempt to win back his old position in government.
Nothing I did was illegal, but here we are anyway. In an interview with AFP conducted at his residence, he explained that his opponents want him behind bars so that he will be unable to run for office.
The rule of law had nothing to do with this kidnapping. It had everything against the rule of law, the law of the jungle, to seize me and throw me in jail, and they would have kept me there for months because there were so many cases. And that was the point: to avoid the polls on election day.
The police were unsuccessful in their latest attempt to storm Khan’s mansion in the affluent neighborhood on Wednesday because hundreds of PTI supporters had surrounded the building the night before.
A video that went viral on social media showed several PTI supporters with visible wounds and others struggling to breathe through clouds of tear gas. The video was widely shared by official PTI accounts.
A PTI representative tweeted that first aid kits were “urgently needed” in the Zaman Park area.
Later, Khan tweeted photos of bullet casings he claimed to have collected at the scene, but a government official in Punjab claimed no live ammunition had been used.
A representative from the Islamabad High Court said Khan’s lawyers had been instructed to petition a lower court for a stay of his arrest warrant and promise that the former prime minister would personally appear at a hearing this coming Saturday.
Khan, 70, was called in to answer allegations that he had not disclosed gifts or profits he had made while serving as prime minister.
Earlier this month, police tried to make an arrest, but they claimed the politician was “reluctant to surrender,” without providing any further context.
Khan has been putting Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the coalition government that replaced him under pressure with popular rallies and daily addresses.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Sharif claimed that Khan thinks he is “above the law.”
To quote one judge: “He is defying every court in the country. Totally open defiance, he told the press.
The former international cricketer was shot in the leg during a political rally last year, an assassination attempt he attributes to Sharif.
Pakistan is in the midst of a severe economic downturn as political drama unfolds ahead of elections scheduled for October. The country risks defaulting if assistance from the International Monetary Fund is not obtained.
Attacks on police headquarters that have resulted in casualties and have been traced to the Pakistani Taliban have further degraded security.
“The standoff in Lahore reflects the worst state of affairs in the country,” said author, political analyst, and human rights activist Tauseef Ahmed Khan.
As one commentator put it, “on the one hand, it is failure of police and the law enforcement agencies… on the other hand, this has been a new trend in the politics of South Asia, that a political leader is defying the arrest by using his workers and supporters.”