Imran Khan, who was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year, has been demanding a snap election and holding nationwide protest rallies. Of late, massive protests were witnessed in Lahore after Khan evaded arrest twice in the Toshakhana case against him. Here’s how it unfolded.
A graphical image of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (Illustration: Rahul Gupta/India Today)
By Vani Mehrotra: Tear gas shells, burnt tyres and vehicles litter the roads in Lahore’s Zaman Park area, which turned into a battleground after supporters of Imran Khan engaged in pitched battles on Tuesday. For more than 11 hours, supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) clashed with police personnel to stop them from arresting the ousted Pakistan premier, resulting in injuries to dozens of policemen.
The development came after a contingent of the Islamabad police, along with armoured vehicles, reached Khan’s Lahore residence to arrest him after a non-bailable warrant was issued in the ongoing Toshakhana (gift depository) case against him.
Fearing the worst, PTI leaders, including Khan himself, appealed to party workers to rush to Zaman Park, where they served as human shields and stood between Khan’s residence and the police.
Here’s why Imran Khan is wanted by police and how he surrounded himself in controversy:
WHAT IS TOSHAKHANA
The Toshakhana is a department that stores expensive items, including gifts, received by public servants. Rules by the department make it mandatory for public servants/officials to report all such materials received by them. However, the President and the prime minister of the country are allowed to retain expensive gifts from the department.
The gifts chosen to be retained should cost less than Pakistani Rupee (PKR) 30,000, the rules state. In case the President and the prime minister choose to retain items costlier than the said amount, they must pay a certain percentage of their value assessed by the government.
WHY IS IMRAN KHAN WANTED BY POLICE
A non-bailable warrant was issued against Imran Khan after investigations revealed how he concealed his asset declarations and details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana. In the case, Imran Khan had been accused of earning $36 million from selling three watches gifted to him.
It was alleged that Imran Khan never deposited some gifts in the treasury, an act which was seen as a violation since the prime minister of Pakistan can retain gifts only after paying a certain amount.
IMRAN KHAN’S POSSIBLE ARREST, PROTESTS – WHAT HAPPENED SO FAR
On Tuesday, the Lahore Police arrived at Zaman Park to arrest Imran Khan. This was the second time in less than 10 days that Khan evaded his arrest because of massive protests by supporters of the PTI.
Earlier on March 5, a team of Islamabad Police had reached Khan’s Lahore residence to arrest him in the Toshakhana case. Scores of PTI supporters clashed with the police and prevented officials from apprehending Khan, who locked himself up inside a room at his residence. Later, the officials returned after assurance from Khan’s legal team that he would appear before the court on a later date (March 7).
The following day, Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that former prime minister Imran Khan scaled the wall of his residence in Lahore and fled to his neighbour’s house to evade arrest in the Toshakhana case.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s media regulator banned broadcasts of Imran Khan’s speeches and the private ARY TV news channel was taken off air for airing his address a day earlier.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) also banned satellite television channels from broadcasting live and recorded speeches of the 70-year-old former cricketer-turned-politician after Islamabad police failed to arrest him.
On March 7, Khan’s counsel Sher Afzal Marwat, who appeared before the court, said Imran Khan was unwell and “disabled” after being injured in the Wazirabad attack, hence he could not appear before the court again. Further, the ousted premier’s lawyer said that it would be easier for the PTI chief to appear before the district court next week.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan announced a massive rally, which was later banned by the authorities. Section 144 was imposed in several areas of the city, after which Khan’s supporters gathered outside his residence and protested the ban. Khan’s PTI claimed that its “peaceful” workers were arrested amid the protest.
IMRAN KHAN’S STANCE
On Tuesday, Khan, in a video message, asked his supporters to “come out” to fight for real freedom and continue the struggle even if he is killed or arrested.
“We will make sure that the court’s arrest warrants are executed,” he said.
“They (the government) think that after my arrest, the nation will fall asleep. You have to prove them wrong,” Imran Khan said in the video message.
“God has given me everything, and I am fighting this battle for you. I have been fighting this battle all my life, and I will continue to do so,” he said.
“If something happens to me and I am sent to jail or if I am killed, you have to prove that you will struggle without Imran Khan and not accept the slavery of these thieves and of the one person who has been making decisions for the country,” he said.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Imran Khan said he was mentally prepared to be arrested on Tuesday night.
Further, Khan said the govt was petrified of the popularity of his party and so wanted to remove him from the electoral contest.