Pakistan authorities moved to arrest opposition leader Imran Khan for not showing up to a court hearing and banned him from television, raising political tensions as the country struggles to shore up its finances and avoid default.
A police team on Sunday arrived at Mr Khan’s residence in the central city of Lahore but said he wasn’t immediately found, according to Taqi Jawad, spokesman of Islamabad police. The 70-year-old former premier later addressed supporters at his home as his party called on members to rally around him.
“I bow only in front of god and no other power or institution,” Mr Khan told cheering supporters. “This is our war for real freedom,” he added while attacking Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took power 11 months ago after Mr Khan lost a confidence vote in parliament.
After 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 “likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” It directed satellite channels not to broadcast any recorded or live news conferences or speeches, warning that licenses will 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 fend off potential 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 deeper into junk on concerns about debt payments as default nears. Foreign exchange reserves have dropped to cover less than a month of imports.
“The real problem is the economy,” said Shaista Tabassum, the head of the international relations department at the University of Karachi. “This political chaos, which keeps deepening, is most likely to sabotage Pakistan’s possible deal with the IMF.”
Pakistan’s rupee has dropped by about 18% this year, making it the fourth worst performer globally, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The nation’s dollar bonds have continued to trade in distressed levels.
Mr Khan, who has drawn tens of thousands to his rallies in recent months, has encouraged supporters to get arrested to push his demands for an early election. Sharif, who has vowed to complete his term that ends in August, risks looking weak if his government doesn’t enforce the court’s orders.
Mr Khan must be presented before the court for a hearing on March 7, Akbar Nasir Khan, the inspector-general of the Islamabad police, told local media.
“The police must arrest him,” he told ARY Television. “We appeal to the people not to hinder the legal process.”
Supporters in Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party have surrounded his residence in Lahore with tents in the past few months to defend their leader in the event of an arrest. Party leaders have taken to social media to urge supporters to gather at Mr Khan’s home.
“Attempting to arrest Imran Khan on fake and flimsy cases will be extremely destabilizing in a system that is already under stress,” Hammad Azhar, a senior PTI leader, told Bloomberg News. “There will be countrywide protests.”
A Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant against Mr Khan last week after he didn’t appear in a hearing for a complaint over his failure to declare his assets. The Election Commission had disqualified the former cricket star in October for allegedly hiding money earned from selling state gifts he received when he was prime minister. Mr Khan has denied any wrongdoing.
He attended multiple court hearings last week, emerging for the first time in months since he was shot and wounded in the leg during a street protest in November. Mr Khan has blamed Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and a general in the country’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, for the attack. All three have denied his allegation.
— PTI (@PTIofficial) March 5, 2023
Mr Khan wrote a letter to Pakistan’s Chief Justice on Sunday, asking for permission to appear for his court cases using video link as there are “clear indications of another assassination attempt being plotted on my life.” He didn’t give further details.
“To date there are 74 cases against me and I am being made to appear in court for hearings time and often,” Mr Khan said in the letter published by his party on Twitter. “Where ever I go, massive crowds naturally follow. This further aggravates the prevailing security threat.”
–With assistance from Saritha Rai, Muneeza Naqvi and Faseeh 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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