Pakistan’s paramilitary forces have arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the capital Islamabad, in a move that threatens to escalate political tensions at a time of economic distress in the country.
Footage shared by the media team of the party headed by Khan showed khaki-clad men breaking a window with their batons to extricate the former prime minister, who was in a room designated to check biometric details.
Khan was in an Islamabad courthouse on Tuesday to attend a court session of one of the dozens of cases he is embroiled in.
Following Khan’s detention, roads clogged with panicking commuters who rushed to pick up children from school and leave work, fearing protesters would block roads. Islamabad’s police issued an order banning demonstrations – in the past, Khan’s supporters have ignored those orders and protested regardless. Authorities also appeared to shut down internet services in some areas of Islamabad.
In the Pakistani city of Lahore, which has become Khan’s seat of power, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf, posted an image on Twitter of an alarm siren and urged supporters to reach a popular crossing to demonstrate. The words, “Reach Liberty Chowk Right Now,” were emblazoned across the image.
“Pakistan’s biggest political leader was arrested,” said one of Khan’s closest allies, Asad Umar, in an Urdu-language Tweet. “The world can see there is no law and order in Pakistan anymore.” Umar said Khan’s party had formed a six-member committee to decide on further actions.
It was not immediately clear why Khan was detained, given that he had been attending court hearings for cases he was embroiled in, to request bail.
Khan had dodged previous arrest attempts from his residence in Lahore with his supporters clashing with police, ultimately pushing them back.
Local media outlet Geo reported Khan was arrested in relation to a case filed in Pakistan’s anti-corruption court, which some analysts say is used to hound critics of the military.
The detention came after the Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Sharif released an usually sharply-worded statement against the former prime minister — warning him not to malign a serving officer, describing Khan’s claims as “highly irresponsible and baseless allegations,” which were “unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable.
That followed recent allegations made by Khan that a military intelligence official was leading behind a plot to kill him. To add insult to the allegations, Khan referred to him as “Dirty Harry,” from an old Clint Eastwood movie – allegations he doubled down on Tuesday, before reaching the court house.
“ISPR sahib,” he said in a Twitter statement, referring to the military spokesman, “when an institution takes action against black sheep, it improves its own credibility. An institution which catches corrupt people strengthens itself,” he said in comments first translated in the Pakistani daily Dawn. He added: “It is my army, my Pakistan not just yours. It is our army.”
Khan was ousted from power in April last year in a no-confidence motion, after the military signaled it no longer supported his rule.
Pakistan has been mired in a political crisis since then, with Khan and his supporters routinely taking to the streets to demand early elections. Their demand has grown louder since Khan’s party swept a series of by-elections last year, suggesting it had only grown in power since the former prime minister’s ouster.
Pakistan’s military has repeatedly signaled that it does not like, or trust Khan, after working closely with his coalition government. It is an irony not lost on many Pakistani analysts who say that it was the army who helped propel Khan’s political fortunes, and paved the way for him to win elections in 2018.
Pakistan’s political crisis has worsened an economic crisis that has caused food prices to soar and pushed millions close to starvation. There are concerns that the country could default on its debt, owing to its thin foreign currency reserves.