Pakistan authorities arrested opposition leader Imran Khan for skipping a court hearing and banned him from television, raising political tensions as the country struggles to save its finances and avoid default.
A police team arrived at Mr Khan’s residence in the central city of Lahore on Sunday, according to Islamabad police spokesman Taqi Jawad, but said he was not immediately found. The 70-year-old former prime minister later addressed supporters at his home as his party called on members to rally around him.
“I bow only before God and not before any other power or institution,” Mr Khan said to cheering supporters. Attacking Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took power 11 months ago after Khan lost a vote of confidence in parliament, he said, “This is our war for real freedom.”
Following Mr Khan’s remarks, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority barred television channels from airing the former cricket star’s speeches, saying his comments were “prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order” and “prejudicial to public peace and order”. was likely to disturb the peace.” It directed satellite channels not to broadcast any recorded or live news conferences or speeches, warning that licenses would be suspended for non-compliance.
The episode underscores how Pakistan’s political tensions are only set to heat up ahead of the election, posing a risk to Mr. Sharif’s efforts to secure bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund to stave off possible bankruptcy. Pakistan’s central bank last week raised its benchmark interest rate to a 25-year high as Moody’s Investors Services downgraded the nation deeply over concerns about debt payments. Foreign exchange reserves have fallen to cover less than a month’s imports.
“The real problem is the economy,” said Shaista Tabassum, head of the department of international relations at the University of Karachi. “This political chaos, which is deepening, is most likely to scuttle Pakistan’s possible deal with the IMF.”
Pakistan’s rupee has fallen nearly 18% this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, making it the fourth worst-performing country globally. The nation’s dollar bonds continued to trade at distressed levels.
Mr Khan, who has attracted thousands to his rallies in recent months, has encouraged supporters to be arrested for pushing his demands for early elections. Sharif, who has vowed to serve out his term that ends in August, risks looking weak if his government does not implement court orders.
Inspector General of Islamabad Police Akbar Nasir Khan told local media that Mr. Khan should be produced in court for a hearing on March 7.
“The police should arrest him,” he told ARY television. We appeal to people not to obstruct the legal process.
Supporters in Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party have over the past few months surrounded his residence in Lahore with tents to defend their leader in the event of arrest. Party leaders have urged supporters on social media to gather at Mr Khan’s home.
Hammad Azhar, a senior PTI leader, told Bloomberg News, “An attempt to arrest Imran Khan in fake and flimsy cases would destabilize an already strained system.” “There will be nationwide protests.”
Last week, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant against Mr Khan after he failed to appear for a hearing on a complaint for failing to declare his assets. The Election Commission disqualified the former cricket star in October for allegedly hiding money he earned from selling state gifts when he was prime minister. Mr Khan has denied any wrongdoing.
He attended several court hearings last week, appearing for the first time in months after being shot and injured in the leg during street protests in November. Mr Khan has blamed Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a general in the country’s powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, for the attack. All three have denied his allegation.
PTI Chairman @ImranKhanPTILetter to Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/OqILcKQfiY
– PTI (@PTIofficial) March 5, 2023
Mr Khan wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan on Sunday, seeking permission to appear in his court cases using video link as “there are clear signs of another assassination attempt on my life.” He did not give further details.
“There are 74 cases against me till date and I am being produced before the court for hearing from time to time,” Khan said in the letter published by his party on Twitter. “Wherever I go, huge crowds naturally follow. This adds to the prevailing security threat.”
–With assistance from Sarita Rai, Muniza Naqvi and Fasih Mangi.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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