New Delhi: If Pakistan’s politics is a soap opera, then the latest twist in the saga has everyone at the edge of their seats. The villain–or the hero of the plot—former Prime Minister Imran Khan may be facing arrest after a speech. His YouTube videos have been blocked. The police have registered an FIR against him under the country’s anti-terrorism Act. His supporters are taking to the streets, while critics are baying for his blood. And everyone from political experts to street vendors are weighing in on the events as they unfold.
It all began when Khan, who is chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in a speech on Saturday night in Islamabad, threatened to file cases against senior police officials, a female magistrate, the election commission and political opponents after claiming that his aide, Shahbaz Gill had been tortured following his arrest. Gill had been arrested last week on charges of sedition.
An FIR was registered under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (punishment for acts of terrorism), while the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has banned satellite television channels from airing Khan’s live addresses. In a statement on Sunday, the regulatory authority accused Khan of levelling “baseless allegations” and “spreading hate speech” against “State institutions and officers”.
The PTI chief is not taking any chances, not in a country where former heads of State often find themselves on the wrong side of the law. His lawyers on Monday moved the Islamabad High Court in a petition seeking pre-arrest bail for Khan.
Show of support
What may perhaps stop Khan from being arrested immediately, is support from an unlikely quarter—the ruling coalition’s senior member and former president Asif Ali Zardari.
According to journalist Azaz Syed of Geo News, the stage is set for his arrest. Most coalition partners are willing for Imran Khan to be arrested, However, Asif Ali Zardari is not in favour of the arrest as of now. According to Syed, Zardari said, “think before you arrest him.”
Zardari’s warning is contrary to what Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Secretary General Syed Nayyar Bukhari said.
According to The Nation, Bukhari said that Imran Khan wanted to spread chaos in the country “with the foreign funding of Israel and India.” He added, “Imran Khan should be immediately detained. He is ridiculing the state institutions. The hateful words against the honorable lady judge fall under the category of contempt of court. Imran Khan is also inciting people for violence.”
While the arrest is still a “possibility”, PTI leaders have asked party workers and supporters to take to the streets in protest.
“In few hours thousands of people will be in Bani Gala Inshallah,” wrote senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary, while urging protesters to reach Khan’s residence.
Even Khan’s former minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi nudged PTI workers to “ be ready and wait for the party’s call.”
Qureshi further said, “Imran is our red line and conspirators will have to face consequences. We have to continue our political struggle while remaining under the confines of the law and the Constitution. But if you enter our house, PM Shehbaz Sharif will be responsible for the consequences. You and Asif Ali Zardari will be responsible for the damage.”
Various members, supporters, and former ministers reached Imran Khan’s residence in a show of support on Sunday.
عمران خان بنی گالہ میں موجود ہیں
— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 21, 2022
“We are here for Imran Khan’s safety. We will be here and so will Imran Khan. Anyone dare touch him,” said another supporter from outside Khan’s Bani Gala residence.
Imran Khan, while addressing a rally at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on Sunday, had also alleged that “neutrals” were responsible for the crackdown on his party. ‘Neutral’ is a term he usually uses for the Pakistan military establishment.
Khan, during the rally, alleged that the police denied responsibility for the torture of his aide Shahbaz Gill.
“On May 25, when the police used violence against us, I was told by insiders that the police were ordered from above, which means that neutrals pressurised them to give PTI workers a thrashing,” said Khan, according to The Dawn.
As per reports, YouTube services in various parts of Pakistan faced disruptions during Khan’s speech. With his live address already facing a ban on television channels by the electronic media regulator, PTI wrote, “coincidentally Youtube was back to be fully operational as soon as our historic Jalsa finished.”
In a tweet, PTI also added, “Freedom of expression is completely finished in Pakistan.”
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)