Islamabad, Pakistan – A court in the Pakistani city of Lahore has ordered the immediate halt of a two-day operation to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan until Thursday morning.
Security forces first attempted to take the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party into custody on Tuesday afternoon after an Islamabad court issued an arrest warrant to ensure his attendance in court by March 18. Khan has repeatedly skipped hearings in a case related to selling state gifts.
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But they were confronted by hundreds of Khan’s supporters who gathered outside his Zaman Park residence in Lahore and tried to prevent the arrest. Dozens of injuries were reported as security forces fired tear gas and water cannon and Khan’s supporters threw stones.
The tense standoff continued on Wednesday but in the afternoon, the Lahore High Court issued an order halting the operation until 10am on Thursday (05:00 GMT) following a petition filed earlier by the PTI.
The PTI had also petitioned the Islamabad High Court, seeking the cancellation of the non-bailable arrest warrant. The court dismissed the plea, asking Khan to submit an undertaking to a lower court that he would appear before it on March 18.
The Lahore court’s order came shortly after security forces pulled back from the area outside Khan’s residence. Provincial authorities said the withdrawal was made to facilitate a cricket match scheduled to be played in Lahore later on Wednesday.
The situation remained calm but tense outside Khan’s residence, as PTI supporters celebrated being able to prevent Khan’s arrest for a second straight day.
Earlier, Khan had delivered a speech in which he accused the government of a plot to disqualify him from contesting elections.
“What is this warrant for which police is here?” asked the cricketer-turned-politician. “All this shelling, such strong deployment of force as if some terrorist is hiding. What is this?” he continued, surrounded by empty tear gas shells.
Khan, who was prime minister from 2018 until April last year, when he lost a vote of confidence in parliament, said he had signed a surety bond which guarantees his presence in court by March 18 but alleged that the police refused to take it.
“By law, once surety is given to the arresting officer, the police should have realised that I have shown my willingness to go to court and stop attempts to arrest me, but they did not.”
Meanwhile, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb alleged that the security personnel involved in the operation to arrest Khan, which included the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers, were attacked by police officers from the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
Gilgit-Baltistan is an autonomous region in northern Pakistan, whose government is currently controlled by Khan’s PTI.
“PTI unleashed its goons along with Gilgit-Baltistan police to attack and challenge the writ of the police,” Aurangzeb told a news conference in Islamabad.
“It cannot go on that the police goes to execute a court’s order, whereas the court continues to grant relief to Khan,” Aurangzeb said.