A Pakistani high court has ordered the police to postpone an operation to arrest Imran Khan to Friday, defusing a surge in violence that saw supporters of the former prime minister fighting pitched battles with security forces.
Khan’s aide Fawad Chaudhry on Thursday said the Lahore High Court extended an order to halt the police operation for another day. State Information Minister Amir Mir confirmed the court order.
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The court also ordered Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to not hold its planned election rally in Lahore on Sunday, when the final match of the continuing Pakistan Super League (PSL) Twenty20 cricket tournament will be played in the city.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, dozens of Khan’s supporters, armed with batons and sling-shots, barricaded his home to prevent security forces from arresting him for failing to show up in court over a case in which he is charged with illegally selling state gifts given to him while he was prime minister. Khan denies the charges.
The court-ordered attempt to arrest Khan, which began on Tuesday, triggered clashes between his supporters and security forces in his Lahore neighbourhood, raising fears about the political stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan as it faces an economic crisis.
The violence, in which protesters torched police vehicles, a water-cannon truck and scores of cars and motorcycles and hurled petrol bombs at security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets, subsided after the high court halted the police operation on Wednesday.
The situation in Lahore’s Zaman Park neighbourhood was calm on Thursday, with television images showing a large number of PTI workers gathered outside Khan’s residence, some of them carrying batons.
The road leading to Khan’s residence was blocked by large containers as PTI workers guarded its entrance. Internet and mobile phone connectivity, which remained affected for two days, were restored.
A lower court in Islamabad had issued a warrant against former international cricketer Khan for defying orders to present himself in court over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022. Khan denies the charges.
The Election Commission of Pakistan had found Khan guilty and barred him from holding public office for one parliamentary term.
The legal proceedings against Khan began after he was removed from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has been demanding a snap election and holding nationwide protest rallies, and was shot and wounded in one of these rallies.
Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan’s demands, saying the election would be held as scheduled later this year.
In January, Khan’s party decided to dissolve the legislative assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces it controlled in order to put more pressure on the government to announce national elections. Pakistan historically holds the provincial and national polls together.
Earlier this month, the election commission announced April 30 as the poll date in Punjab while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s governor said he has suggested May 28 as election day in his province.