Pakistan’s army warns against further attacks on state buildings or personnel after ex-PM’s arrest.
Pakistan’s government has called in the army to help end deadly unrest in the wake of the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, warning protesters against any further attacks on state installations.
At least five people have died in violence after Khan – Pakistan’s most popular political leader according to polls – was arrested in a land fraud case on Tuesday, prompting supporters to storm military buildings and ransack the residence of a top army general in the eastern city of Lahore.
Other state buildings and assets have been attacked and set ablaze by protesters, and the government said on Wednesday that it had approved requests from two of Pakistan’s four provinces – Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, both Khan strongholds – and the federal capital Islamabad to deploy troops to restore order.
Earlier, the army issued a statement saying it had shown restraint during earlier violence but any further assaults on the military or law enforcement agencies, state installations and properties “will be met with severe retaliation”.
It promised stern action against those seeking to push Pakistan towards a “civil war.” It called the organised attacks on its installations a “black chapter” in the country’s political history.
As protests raged on the streets, a Pakistani court turned Khan, 70, over to the custody of Pakistan’s anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), for eight days for further questioning. The former international cricket star is now being held in a police guesthouse in Islamabad.
Another court indicted Khan earlier on Wednesday on charges of selling state gifts during his four years in power, a day after his arrest in the unrelated fraud case.
The indictment followed a decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan in October last year that found Khan guilty of illegally selling state gifts between 2018 and 2022, and as a result barred him from holding public office until the next election due in November. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha, a lawmaker from the governing coalition who was a plaintiff in the case against Khan on state gifts, accused him of putting the “country’s peace at stake”.
Mobile data services were shut for a second day on Wednesday as street protests continued, with federal ministers accusing Khan’s supporters of torching several buildings and vehicles.
Police said they had arrested more than 1,400 protesters for violence in Khan’s home province of Punjab.
Murad Saeed, a senior leader of Khan’s party, says the manner in which the former prime minister was arrested was “abduction and entirely illegal”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Saeed, said the response from the public to Khan’s arrest showed the former prime minister’s popularity.
Saeed denied that party workers were behind violent protests and rioting which damaged multiple public and private properties, including military installations, across the country.
“You must have seen that PTI has been conducting public rallies and demonstrations since last one year after our government was removed. Our supporters know exactly which area we gather to conduct our protests, but this time in our midst were some elements who did not belong to the party,” Saeed claimed.
Asad Umar, Khan’s party’s secretary general, and Fawad Chaudhry, one of Khan’s aides have also been arrested. PTI said Fawad’s arrest was carried out despite him having been granted protective bail by the Islamabad High Court until May 12.
“He was arrested despite possessing a bail, granted to him by Islamabad High Court which specifically barred his arrest till May 12,” Faisal Fareed Chaudhry, Fawad’s brother and a PTI lawyer, told Al Jazeera.
More than 145 policemen have been injured in clashes with protesters, said the police in a statement.
Khan, a cricket hero-turned-politician, was removed as prime minister in April 2022 in a parliamentary no-confidence vote. He has not slowed his campaign against his removal even though he was wounded in a November attack on his convoy as he led a protest march to Islamabad calling for snap general elections.
The corruption cases are two of more than 100 registered against Khan after he left office.
“Such scenes were never seen by the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. “Even patients were taken out of ambulances and ambulances were set on fire.”
Calling such attacks “unforgivable,” he warned that those involved in violence would be given exemplary punishment.
Sharif said Khan was arrested because of his involvement in corruption, and that there was evidence available to back up these charges.
Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN, has said the situation in the country is extremely serious.
“It is a very serious situation. It is probably the most serious political and constitutional crisis that Pakistan has faced in many, many decades. It comes on the back of a serious economic crisis. What you have is a perfect storm in Pakistan right now,” Lodhi told Al Jazeera from the capital Islamabad.
“I think the government is struggling to maintain law and order. Protesters are turning violent and it doesn’t look as if the unrest is beginning to in any way fade.”
Imran Shafique, a lawyer and former prosecutor at Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB), said that Khan can be kept in custody for a maximum of 14 days.
“The court has ordered an eight-day remand for him [Khan], and it can be extended for another six days,” Shafique told Al Jazeera.
Shafique explained that former Prime Minister Khan will be able to seek bail once the duration of his remand is over, as he is already under arrest.
Shafique said there are few scenarios under which Khan could face the prospect of arrest. The first, under which he was taken away, was not appearing in court despite being issued notices.
“The second scenario is if he is charged with tampering with evidence, which is not possible since all evidence is with NAB and the third is there is a fear that Khan would flee the country,” he said.
“Therefore, it does not seem like his questioning and arrest will last too long.”
Additional reporting by Abid Hussain and Hafsa Adil.
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