Violence broke out in several major cities across Pakistan this week following the dramatic arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Supporters of Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have been protesting since his arrest on Tuesday.
Scenes broadcast from Islamabad and Lahore earlier in the week showed clashes between protesters and police. Tensions have since escalated: Eight people have died, and at least 1,400 others have been arrested, according to police.
On Tuesday, Khan was detained on corruption charges — one of more than 100 criminal charges that have been filed against him by the current government. Khan claims, however, that the charges are a politically motivated plot created by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. On Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Khan’s arrest unlawful, but the opposition leader was forced to remain in police protection for his own safety.
Here’s everything we know about the political turmoil in Pakistan from our original reporting and trusted partners, including Sky News, Reuters and the BBC.
The charges against Khan
Khan, 70, is at the center of the political chaos and unrest that Pakistan is now facing. As reported by Reuters, Khan was arrested on Tuesday by an anti-corruption agency. Pakistani officials have accused him and his wife, Bushra Wattoo, of receiving millions of dollars' worth of land from a real estate tycoon through their charity, the Al-Qadir Trust.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah alleged on Tuesday that the charity had been a front for Khan to receive bribes from a Pakistani multimillionaire, Malik Riaz Hussain. "The trust received 180 million rupees [$2.1 million] for operational expenses, but records showed only 8.52 million rupees [$103,631]," Sanaullah told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday night.
Khan has continued to deny any wrongdoing. The latest charge is one of 127 that have been filed against him since he left office last year after losing a vote of confidence. If convicted, he will be banned from running for office again.
Before his court appearance on Tuesday, Khan published a video on Twitter in which he accused the government of silencing him through arrests. “This is my Pakistan, it's not yours. It's our military,” he said, in a translation published on Sky News. “You can’t just shut our mouths when we criticize you.”
Inside Khan’s arrest
The weekend before he was arrested, Khan accused the military of orchestrating at least two assassination attempts against him, Bloomberg reports. In a statement published on Monday night, the military called for his accusations to be addressed in court. “These fabricated and malicious allegations are extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable,” the statement read. “This has been a consistent pattern for [the] last one year wherein military and intelligence agencies officials are targeted with insinuations and sensational propaganda for the furtherance of political objectives.”
As reported by Sky News, dramatic footage showed dozens of National Accountability Bureau agents protected by a sea of paramilitaries forcibly remove Khan from court on Tuesday before pushing him into an armored police vehicle. Khan was standing trial on a different corruption charge when the paramilitaries, dressed in riot gear, stormed the courtroom. He was brought to a guesthouse in Islamabad where he was questioned by police. “They had no justification to arrest me,” Khan told the Independent. “I was abducted. It seems as if there was a law of [the] jungle.”
Two days later, the Supreme Court ruled the arrest unlawful. “Your arrest was invalid, so the whole process needs to be backtracked,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial told Khan at his hearing on Thursday.
Pakistan’s information minister, Marriyum Aurangzeb, defended the arrest to Sky News, stating that Khan had defied the court. “A person … who does not abide by the law, who avoids courts and who thinks he's untouchable and cannot be questioned, has to be treated the way every citizen is treated,” Aurangzeb said. “If we wanted to arrest him or silence him because of his popularity, we would not have waited 14 months.”
On Friday, it was ruled that Khan should be released from custody and not rearrested for at least two weeks.
Country in chaos
As reported by the BBC, thousands of Khan’s supporters have come out in support of him and the PTI in recent days. Tensions on the streets of Pakistan’s cities have grown since his arrest. “The government's initial response for the first day or so was to not intervene,” a Pakistani human rights lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous because commentary on the political atmosphere is so sensitive, told Yahoo News.
When Khan was in police custody, protesters targeted government buildings and ransacked the home of an army chief in the eastern city of Lahore. At that point, the government deployed the army to disperse the thousands of demonstrators and to quell the chaos. The military released a statement announcing that any assaults against law enforcement agencies would be met with “severe retaliation.”
“What we are seeing now is a lot of prosecutions and arrests,” the lawyer said. He explained how the government had taken further steps by restricting access to social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in large parts of the country. “That has led to the most tense standoff in a very long time, both in terms of the intensity and the length of the protests and in terms of the escalation between the government and protesters,” he said.
A member of the PTI, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, called for continued protests, however, and asked supporters to remain peaceful. “Peaceful protest is your constitutional right. Keep it going,” he said. “But don’t take the law into your own hands.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, standing alongside his British counterpart at a press conference in Washington, called for both sides to adhere to the “rule of law.”
What happens next
The future of Pakistan, at least for the next year, will be turbulent, the lawyer told Yahoo News, as the country faces a “perfect storm … of multiple crises.”
“Pakistan is facing the worst economic crisis in the country's history and the backsliding of the Taliban, where we’ve seen a rise in the number of terrorist militant attacks,” the lawyer said, predicting that it is unlikely to be resolved within the next year.