FORMER Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested and bundled into a prison van by paramilitary Rangers on Tuesday from the Islamabad High Court, sparking massive protests across Pakistan by his supporters who stormed the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi and the Corps Commander’s residence in Lahore. The arrest of the 70-year-old former cricketer-turned-politician comes a day after the powerful army accused Khan of levelling baseless allegations against a senior officer of the spy agency ISI.
The chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who travelled from Lahore to the federal capital Islamabad, was undergoing a biometric process at the court when the Rangers broke open the glass window and arrested him after beating lawyers and Khan’s security staff, according to senior party leader Shireen Mazari. TV footage showed the Rangers grabbing Khan from the collar and bundling him into a prison van. The Rangers, which operate under the Interior Ministry, are usually commanded by officers on secondment from the Army. “Khan has been arrested in a land transfer case to property tycoon Malik Riaz and is being handed over to National Accountability Bureau (NAB)”, a NAB official confirmed to PTI. He said that Khan has been arrested in the Al-Qadir Trust case which is about the setting up of Al-Qadir University for Sufism in 2019 Sohawa area of Jhelum district of Punjab. Khan’s arrest warrant, issued on May 1, said that he was accused of corruption and corrupt practice.
As the news of Khan’s arrest spread, massive protests broke out in several cities across Pakistan. Protesters at several places turned violent andburned police vehicles anddamaged public property. For the first time, Khan’s supporters smashed the main gateof the army’s sprawling headquarters in Rawalpindi, wheretroops exercised restraint. Theprotesters chanted slogansagainst the establishment. In Lahore, a large number of PTI workers stormed into theCorps Commander Lahore residence and smashed the gateand window-panes. The armypersonnel present on dutythere, however, did not try tostop the enraged protesterswho surrounded them and chanted slogans against the ‘handlers’ of the PML-N led Government in the military establishment.
The protesters held a demonstration in the Cantonment area. Lahore was virtually cut off from the rest of the province because of the protest on main roads including the entry and exit points. The caretaker Punjab government called the Rangers to control the law-and-order situation in the province and imposed section 144 under which not more than five people can gather at one point. The Punjab government also requested the PakistanTelecommunication Authority to suspend Internet and mobile services in the areas of the province where violent protests took place. A large number of PTI workers also pelted stones at the residence of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in Faisalabad city. Similarly, protests were held in Multan, Jhang, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Kasur, Khanewal, Vehari, Gujranwala, Hafizabad and Gujrat cities. Interior Minister Sanaullah said that Khan failed to appear before the court despite being issued several notices.