Imran Khan granted bail after Supreme Court ruling, legal team says – The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s high court granted bail Friday to charismatic opposition leader Imran Khan and released him from custody in a ruling that could offer a breathing spell after days of widespread tension and protests by his supporters.
Yet hours after Khan’s release was ordered, he was still in court custody Friday evening and issued a video charging that he had been “kidnapped.” Supporters continued to clash with police after dark, and the cabinet of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reportedly discussed imposing emergency measures, though no action was announced.
Finally, just before 11 p.m., Khan was freed and left in a caravan for his home in Lahore. Multiple Pakistani outlets reported that social media, blocked since Tuesday, was slowly starting to work again in the country.
Speaking from his car, Khan said: “We have left for Lahore, thank God. The Islamabad police chief tried his best to stop me, for three hours they kept telling us it was dangerous outside — but when we came out, we saw there was nothing happening on roads.”
Meanwhile, the intense drama has raised deeper concerns across Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 230 million, and some observers have warned of a potential military coup. Suddenly, the noisy but mostly peaceful rivalry between Khan, the Sharif government and the military over holding future elections has taken on broader, potentially more dangerous dimensions.
The country’s powerful army is now faced with surprising pushback from the judiciary. The Supreme Court ruled that the forceful arrest of Khan — who was prime minister until his ouster last year — on corruption charges during a court hearing Tuesday was illegal. Khan, who faces numerous corruption charges, has denied them all, and his supporters say the charges are fabricated.
The army’s long-standing public popularity has also been shaken, as angry Khan supporters have attacked army headquarters in Rawalpindi and burned down a senior army commander’s house in Lahore.
In a televised address, Sharif compared violent protesters to “terrorists” earlier this week, saying they had committed “unforgivable crimes.” The violence is among the worst since 2007, when former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning.
The tensions had threatened to spiral out of control after Pakistan called in the military to confront protesters on Wednesday, deploying it in the capital city of Islamabad and several provinces. Since clashes began, dozens of people were injured, several were killed and hundreds were arrested, including several key members of Khan’s party.
Khan, who came to power in 2018 as a crusading liberal who sought to fight corruption and the dynastic political elite, enjoyed tacit support from the army. Within the large military community, many families and retirees were said to appreciate Khan’s vow to clean up the political system.
But those relations soured over time. After Khan was ousted as prime minister in April 2022, he accused the army of tacitly backing Sharif and his political allies. While launching a boisterous comeback campaign last year, Khan was shot and wounded during an outdoor rally, and has since repeatedly blamed the security establishment for orchestrating the attack.
“The nation is polarized, and it could be on the cusp of a military takeover,” said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. With Khan accusing security officials of trying to kill him at a rally last year and whipping up his enraged followers, Haqqani said, “Imran is paving the way for the military to return.”
The military on Friday night strongly denied suggestions that it could attempt to install martial law.
In the coming days, the Sharif government will also have to decide whether to hold regional elections in two key states in which Khan’s party could make significant gains. The polls are seen as a bellwether for general elections later this year.
Shuja Nawaz, an expert on Pakistan’s military at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the open confrontation between Khan and the army has led to an “unnecessary crisis” at a dire moment for Pakistan’s economy, with the rupee tumbling to new lows and the country close to defaulting on its debts.
In an essay, Nawaz warned that the “storm” created by Khan’s defiance and the army’s crackdown could lead to “unintended and unmanageable consequences.”
Zahid Hussain, a columnist for Dawn newspaper, wrote Friday that the frenzied events of the past several days had “pushed the country close to anarchy” and that the civilian authorities seemed to have “completely collapsed” in the face of angry mobs. The government’s failing credibility and the “reckless power struggle” between Khan and Sharif, he wrote, has “eroded the writ of the state.”
Direct attacks on military targets are something “that one never would have expected a few years ago,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.
Pakistan’s army has a long history of interfering in civilian politics, including three direct military interventions and frequent behind-the-scenes pressure on elections and political leaders. In the past several years, military leaders had pledged to withdraw to a “neutral” role in politics, but in recent months, as their battle with Khan sharpened, they appeared to have abandoned that commitment.
On Monday, the army issued a strong statement warning that Khan’s continued allegations of military plots were “unacceptable.” On Tuesday, armed paramilitary forces and others entered the Islamabad high court and, in front of news cameras, forced him into a waiting armed vehicle.
Some observers questioned why the military had subsequently not been able to prevent the attacks by pro-Khan supporters on its own installations, failing to keep them from entering either the military headquarters gate in Rawalpindi or the army commander’s residence in Lahore. Several suggested that some military members had pro-Khan sympathies, or that others had left their posts for unknown reasons, raising suggestions of divided loyalties.
“Who was in charge?” said Nawaz, the military expert. “Where were the military guards that abandoned the gate” leading to the army headquarters? He noted that many images posted by Khan supporters created an impression that the military was “being challenged with impunity by mobs of angry youth and women.”
As protesters attacked passing police vehicles with slingshots on the outskirts of Islamabad on Friday, Hassan, a pro-Khan protester who refused to provide his last name, said: “We love our army.”
But certain army members, he said, have behaved like “black sheep,” preventing fair elections.
“We are here for our rights,” he said.


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