Pakistan is bracing for another day of violence that broke out in many cities after the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan for alleged corruption with the leaders of his party announcing a countrywide strike on Wednesday to protest against the government.
The 70-year-old former cricketer-turned-politician was taken into custody in a clumsy fashion by the paramilitary Rangers on Tuesday on the orders of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by barging into a room of the Islamabad High Court where he came to attend a corruption case hearing.
The court later ruled that the arrest of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chief was legal but the way it was carried out was illegal and decided to proceed against the Islamabad police chief and interior secretary.
The PTI leadership strongly condemned the arrest of party chairman Khan and announced a countrywide strike on Wednesday. They also appealed to the nation to come out onto the streets against the ”rising fascism” telling supporters that a ”make or break moment” has approached, the Dawn newspaper reported.
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Protests broke out in the country as the news of Khan’s arrest went viral, with his supporters armed with batons targeting the installations of security institutions, including the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army.
They paid no heed to the imposition of Section 144 that outlawed gatherings in Punjab, Balochistan and major places in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Some of the worst incidents of violence and vandalism were reported from Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and Rawalpindi.
The PTI overnight claimed at least two deaths and dozens of injuries of its workers in clashes with law enforcement agencies.
Geo News reported that at least three people were killed in clashes and several properties and vehicles were destroyed. The NAB authorities have indicated to present Khan before a court on Wednesday to seek his physical remand in order to further investigate him in the Al-Qadir Trust case allegedly involving more than Rs 50 billion loss to the national exchequer.
The Islamabad police said that the hearing of his case will be held at the heavily guarded Police Lines area of the capital instead of the Islamabad District Courts Complex. The commissioner’s office through a circular designated the Police Lines as a makeshift court.
Police announced that security would be on high alert mode on the occasion of Khan’s appearance in the court where only relevant persons and lawyers would be allowed.
The PTI chief’s legal team on Wednesday was denied permission to meet him ahead of the hearing on the Al-Qadir Trust case.
“We were stopped from meeting our client,” Babar Awan, a part of Khan’s legal team, told Geo News. He added that nobody is being allowed to meet the PTI chief which is against the Constitution.
Khan is also expected to be presented in another court on the occasion of the Toshakhana case. The court already set the date for his indictment. The case is based on the allegation of the former prime minister concealing the proceeds from the sale of state gifts. Separately, his supporters were sending messages on social media to converge in Islamabad to force the government to release their leader.
Earlier, the PTI leadership in a late-night meeting decided to continue the countrywide protest against the arrest of Khan. However, it distanced itself from the incident of arson and violence by saying that the protestors had been infiltrated by those who wanted to get the party banned.
In Punjab, the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) has announced the closure of all colleges and universities as well as postponement of a paper scheduled for Wednesday.
HED Secretary Javed Akhtar Mahmood confirmed that all colleges and universities would also remain closed. Similarly, public and private schools would also remain closed.
Mobile internet and major social media platforms are still inaccessible across the country as authorities continue to restrict access.
The party has also decided to challenge the arrest in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
Separately, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that the party would challenge in the Supreme Court the IHC decision to declare the arrest as legal. The court on Tuesday evening after hearing arguments endorsed the arrest.
Hours after the arrest, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi convened a meeting of the ”emergency committee” comprising Senators Saifullah Khan, Azam Swati and Ejaz Chaudhry, PTI senior leaders Murad Saeed, Ali Amin Khan Gandapur and Hassan Niazi to review the situation from every aspect and announce a comprehensive plan of action.
Also, PTI Central Secretary General Asad Umar said Qureshi-led seven-member committee, which was formed by Khan, would announce the party’s plan of action after Pakistan’s biggest political leader was arrested.
“The whole world is being shown there is no law left in the country,” he remarked. The vice chairman, meanwhile, urged people to come out in support of Khan who was “abducted” from the court premises in a “false and fabricated” case.
Qureshi told reporters at the Karachi airport that the arrest was connected with the London visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, alleging that it was “a pre-planned attack” by the government on the ex-premier and warned of strong protest against the “illegal move”.
“The people are protesting on their own,” he said in response to a question. “The people of Pakistan across the country took to the street to protest the arrest of Imran Khan. They are peaceful and only want their beloved leader’s safety.” And it didn’t happen suddenly, he said, adding that Prime Minister Shehbaz extended his London stay as he knew this (arrest plan of Imran Khan) very well.
“The arrest of Imran Khan is somehow connected with London (visit of Shehbaz Sharif),” the vice chairman said, adding that even well before his appearance before the court Khan in a video statement announced, “he’s ready for arrest”.
Meanwhile, in London, the supporters of PTI gathered outside Avenfield House, the Park Lane residence of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif.
On Tuesday evening, scores of PTI’s UK supporters poured into Dunraven Street, the street leading to the gated apartment block where Sharif and members of his family reside, and shouted anti-Nawaz slogans.
The international community has also taken note of the situation in Pakistan in the wake of Khan’s arrest.
The United States has called for respect of democratic principles and the rule of law in Pakistan after the arrest of Khan.
The European Union emphasised that in such difficult and tense times, restraint and cool-headedness are needed.
“Pakistan’s challenges can only be addressed and its pathway can only be determined by Pakistanis themselves, through sincere dialogue and in line with the rule of law,” it said.