Chaos Breaks Out as Imran Khan Makes Court Appearance

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared in court on corruption charges on Saturday in the capital Islamabad in the latest twist of a standoff between his supporters and authorities that sparked chaotic scenes of tear gas and clashes with police. security lines in front of your house. earlier in the week.

That standoff continued on Saturday morning, when Khan arrived at the court surrounded by a crowd of his supporters, who clashed with police outside the court complex. The court allowed Mr. Khan, who claimed that he was unable to enter the court building due to the chaos outside, to record his appearance from inside his vehicle.

Khan, who was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April, faces dozens of court cases on charges including terrorism and corruption. Several arrest warrants have against him after he repeatedly refused to appear in court in Islamabad. The court hearing he tried to attend on Saturday involved charges of illegally profiting from accepting state gifts and concealing assets from him.

The clashes this week, when police tried to arrest Khan at his Lahore residence, were the latest display of political brinkmanship on the streets of Pakistan, as clouds of tear gas mixed with angry crowds of Khan supporters who have camped out outside his home and have effectively assumed the role of his personal bodyguards.

The violent scenes offered a grim reminder of the state of politics in Pakistan, which has battled instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. The political scene has become a game of warring dynasties taking turns falling out of favor with the country’s powerful military establishment, with the victors wielding the country’s justice system against their rivals.

Since being ousted from power last year, Khan has led a powerful political campaign that has drawn tens of thousands to rallies across the country, demanding new elections.

At the same time, the state has filed dozens of court cases against Mr. Khan. He and his supporters have characterized the accusations as a misuse of the justice system by the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the military to marginalize Khan from politics. Pakistani political and military leaders have repeatedly denied those claims.

Political tensions around Khan came to a head in November when the former prime minister was wounded during a political rally after an unidentified man opened fire on his convoy in what his aides called an assassination attempt. . Since then, Khan has mostly been ensconced in his residence in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, and has refused to appear in court in Islamabad.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader of Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI, said the threat to Khan’s life makes court appearances much riskier, adding: “It is not humanly possible to appear before the courts in such a large number of cases.”

Mr. Khan claims that the state has filed more than 86 court cases against him. Government officials say he faces around 30 cases.

The drama surrounding Khan appears to have boosted his popularity, analysts say, underscoring his unique ability to rise above Pakistan’s typical playbook to sideline political leaders who have fallen out of favor with the country’s powerful military. .

Police officers wearing white helmets and shields lined up outside Mr Khan’s residence in Lahore on Tuesday to execute a warrant for the former prime minister’s arrest for failing to appear in court. Police used batons and tear gas canisters to disperse members and supporters of Khan’s political party during the protracted fight, which lasted for hours and into the night.

Leaders of Khan’s political party took to social media to share images of tear gas canisters falling on the grass in front of his living room. Video clips showed party workers throwing a canister at police from the other side of a nearby wall. In another video, party workers, holding sticks, were seen running for cover as clouds of tear gas engulfed the driveway of Khan’s residence.

As battles raged outside his home, Mr. Khan made an impassioned plea to his supporters via recorded video message, urging them to fight for their freedom and rights in the face of imminent arrest by the police. Khan vowed to continue fighting as he urged his supporters to show that they could defend his rights even in his absence.

“If they send me to jail, or if they kill me, you have to show that you can fight without me too,” Khan said in the video.

Mr Khan has been criticized by his opponents for trying to avoid arrest and refusing to appear in court. But the violent confrontation outside his home drew widespread criticism.

“I am deeply saddened by today’s events. Unhealthy Revenge Politics,” Arif Alvi, President of Pakistan and a member of Khan’s political party, tweeted on Tuesday, adding that it showed “poor priorities” from a government “that should focus on the economic misery of the people.”

Following those clashes, Khan agreed to appear in court on Saturday and traveled early that morning from his home in Lahore to Islamabad in a convoy flanked by large crowds.

As he made the hour-long journey, police returned to his residence in Lahore and dismantled barriers and sandbag bunkers erected outside his home. Then another confrontation broke out: Police say they were shot at and thrown Molotov cocktails. Sixty-one people were arrested, said Amir Mir, acting information minister for Punjab province.

Some hoped that Mr Khan’s appearance in court on Saturday would ease the tension that had built up over the past week. But the clashes in Lahore and outside the courtroom in Islamabad only added to the sense of chaos that has gripped Pakistan in recent months.

As the standoff drags on, Khan’s ability to take advantage of attempts to marginalize him in political popularity has altered the Pakistani political sphere, analysts say, and shaken the widespread belief that the military establishment, long seen as the the invisible hand that guides policy, has a firm grip on the wheel.

“If Pakistan still had a functioning establishment like the one we have always envisioned, Imran Khan would already be prime minister or he would be firmly in jail and out of politics,” said Adil Najam, a professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies in Boston University. and a Pakistani political expert, referring to the military as the establishment, as it is popularly known in Pakistan. “The establishment has imploded, its assumed authority is gone.”