Political Turmoil Intensifies in Pakistan as Imran Khan’s Arrest Fuels Tensions with Military

Pakistan finds itself on the brink of a major crisis as former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest ignites a wave of fury among his supporters. The dramatic escalation of a year-long political standoff has plunged the South Asian nation into turmoil, pitting Khan’s loyalists against the powerful military. With angry crowds vandalizing army personnel’s homes and clashes erupting across the country, Pakistan stands on edge, teetering between chaos and stability.
Imran Khan was arrested
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters clash with police during a protest against the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan in Peshawar on May 10, 2023. Abdul Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Imran Khan was arrested on multiple corruption charges, further fueling the already tense showdown between his supporters and the military. Khan’s followers took to the streets, venting their anger and resorting to unprecedented acts of aggression, breaking into and vandalizing army personnel’s homes. The unrest continued with hundreds of Khan’s supporters storming the headquarters of the national broadcaster Radio Pakistan in Peshawar.

In the aftermath of the arrest, violent clashes ensued, leading to the torching of 25 police vehicles and over 14 government buildings in Punjab province. Approximately 1,000 Khan supporters were arrested in the province, as authorities in three out of four provinces implemented emergency orders banning all gatherings. Pakistan’s Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, accused Khan of spreading anarchy, chaos, and destruction while ensuring the public that there was no political vendetta.

Outside the police headquarters in Islamabad, Khan’s supporters and riot police amassed as an impromptu court hearing was scheduled to take place. Surrounded by a ring of security forces, the hearing occurred within the police station to prevent public access. Faisal Chaudhry, Khan’s lawyer, revealed that he had no contact with his client. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, requested a fourteen-day remand for Khan.

Imran Khan's supporters burn tires
Imran Khan’s supporters burn tires to block roads in Peshawar, Pakistan on May 9, 2023. Hussain Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Video footage preceding Khan’s arrest depicted paramilitary forces breaking a window to apprehend the politician, who watched passively amidst the chaos. Imran Khan was then escorted away in a vehicle surrounded by numerous security officers. In a pre-recorded statement released by Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), after his arrest, he declared that he had been detained on incorrect charges and urged his supporters to stand up and fight for their rights. Khan vehemently denied the corruption charges and accused the current government of being corrupt.

Violent protests erupted in multiple cities, with Khan’s supporters breaking into the military’s headquarters in Rawalpindi and blocking a main thoroughfare into Islamabad. Stone-throwing incidents and arson further marred the protests, resulting in police retaliation with tear gas. Tragically, one Khan supporter was shot and killed by police during a protest in Quetta. Authorities responded by blocking mobile internet services, disrupting access to social media platforms and ordering the closure of private schools across the country.

Imran Khan’s ousting in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last year fueled his campaign against the current government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan accuses Sharif and the military of colluding to remove him from office, while both deny his allegations. The tensions have pushed Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation grappling with political instability, into uncharted territory, heightening the risk of violence and social unrest. As the government struggles to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to address the economic crisis, Khan’s popularity continues to rise.

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