Imran Khan Arrested as Pakistan Erupts
B J Sadiq reports from Islamabad as the former cricketer and Prime Minister is apprehended during a court case
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Former Pakistani leader and cricketer Imran Khan was taken into custody by an armed regiment of the Pakistan Rangers on Tuesday, as he presented himself for a regular court hearing in Islamabad.
Video footage of the Islamabad courtroom, lit up by electric light, showed Khan sitting in a wheelchair, sporting his sunglasses, one hand holding his cheek, the other clutching the wheelchair lever, pensively silent. Close to a dozen Ranger officers, baton-armed, stormed inside the courtroom, aiming to charge through the crowd and seize Khan.
“It is not an arrest; it is an abduction,” said one of many emotionally charged supporters of Khan’s political party. According to some witnesses, Khan was roughed up and even beaten by a gun and hoisted off his wheelchair. Shaky mobile footage revealed a limping Khan, being pushed inside a heavily manned armoured Toyota truck.
According to the Inspector General of Islamabad, Khan was taken to the National Accountability Bureau office in Rawalpindi and will be presented before an anti-graft court on Wednesday, before a further trial resumes. What do they plan to do with him? Even the courts don’t know.
Moments after the arrest, Khan’s supporters went out of the streets of the capital Islamabad, waving flags of Khan’s party, and blaming military headquarters and the incumbent Shehbaz Sharif-led government. ‘We have had enough of this establishment, we demand democratic rights; people who rule over us are above the law, and we won’t tolerate that anymore,’ protested one of the supporters. Islamabad was locked down immediately on police orders, its highways blocked, its marketplace deserted.
Meanwhile, large crowds attacked the gates of the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, and in Lahore, Khan’s hometown, the house of the army’s corps commander was also besieged. There are also reports of widespread street protests breaking out in other major cities; placing the military in direct confrontation with the public. The Government also plans to shut down all internet services.
Khan’s had a bad year ever since his government was ousted through a no-confidence vote in April last year. He blames Washington, the Sharif family and most importantly the country’s powerful military for his fall. Since his removal from office, Khan has been rallying for early elections, and even escaped an assassination attempt at a packed rally in winter last year; suffering an ugly wound on his leg. He blames the military for plotting to kill him, but in an official statement, the military authorities said Khan’s allegations as unequivocally baseless and rash.
Khan has also been fighting off a heap of court cases, which his followers claim are mainly trivial. Khan’s newfound popularity has emboldened him. At a time when Pakistan finds herself on the brink of a certain economic default, Khan’s arrest sends a wrong message to many regional and global economic powers – including China – who were still willing to forge trade ties with Pakistan but have become increasingly wary and sceptical.
B. J. Sadiq is a British Pakistani writer and author of two books.