Imran Khan Faces Court Today Amid Protests, Schools Shuttered Across Pak

A day after his shock arrest prompted violent nationwide protests, Imran Khan will appear Wednesday in a special court at the police headquarters in the capital to answer graft charges.

Khan’s detention follows months of political crisis and comes after the powerful military rebuked him for alleging a senior officer had been involved in a plot to murder him.

In Rawalpindi, protesters laid siege to the army’s general headquarters after torching Lahore’s residence of the corps commander.

Pakistan’s first nuclear test site, the Chaghi monument, was destroyed by a mob in Peshawar.

For hours on Tuesday night, police fought pitched battles with supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Two people were reported dead in those clashes by local media.

The tempers seemed to have cooled on Wednesday morning, but security was high across the capital, particularly outside the so-called police lines where the special court will meet.

In addition, schools were shuttered across the country, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were restricted.

As we struggle to feed our children, further uncertainty has been created,” Farooq Bhatti, a van driver, told AFP in Rawalpindi.

Everyone will be affected by the violence… but I doubt the decision makers care.”

PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi encouraged supporters to protest in a “lawful and peaceful manner,” adding the party would appeal Khan’s arrest.

Rebuke from the military

Khan was charged Tuesday by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s top anti-corruption body, with failing to appear in court despite repeated summonses.

Since Khan was ousted in April, dozens of charges have been brought against him, a tactic analysts say successive Pakistani governments have used to silence their opponents.

Defendant may be barred from holding public office if convicted, which would prevent him from running in the upcoming elections.

He was arrested a day after the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.

Rebuke late Monday underscored Khan’s deteriorating relationship with the military, which supported his rise to power in 2018 but withdrew its support ahead of last year’s vote of no confidence.

“The senior army leadership has no interest in repairing the rift with Khan,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute.

With this arrest, it is likely sending a message that the gloves are off.”

A swift response was received from abroad.

During a press conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States wanted to “ensure that whatever happens in Pakistan is consistent with the law and the constitution.”

Cleverly added, “We want a peaceful democracy in that country.”

Khan is pressuring the struggling coalition government for early elections as Pakistan is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis.

To avoid arrest, he relies on the near-fanatical support of the huge crowds that accompany his public appearances.

During what was supposed to be a routine court appearance, authorities pounced.

Khan was manhandled into an armored car inside the Islamabad High Court by dozens of paramilitary rangers after being shot during an assassination attempt last year.

In a weekend rally in Lahore, Khan repeated accusations that senior intelligence officer Major-General Faisal Naseer was shot in the leg during an assassination attempt last year.

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that the allegation was “fabricated and malicious”.

According to the government, the assassination attempt was carried out by a lone gunman, who is now in custody and who confessed in a controversial video released to the media.

In Pakistan, the sixth largest military in the world wields undue influence over the country.