Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani police have withdrawn from the residence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan after nearly 24 hours of clashes with his supporters as officers attempted to seek his arrest on corruption charges. The crisis comes as Pakistan is on the brink of economic default.
Khan’s supporters threw rocks and used sticks at officers even at one point throw a firebomb, as they formed a shield around Khan’s home in an upscale, leafy suburb of the Pakistani city of Lahore. “These are workers who are actually fighting with the police,” says Arifa Nourcolumnist for Pakistani newspaper Dawn. The police, she said, “didn’t estimate that kind of resistance.”
As the fighting raged, Khan took to Twitter saying, “If anything happens – if I get jailed or if they kill me – it’s up to you to keep fighting.”
The confrontation raged until Wednesday afternoon, when the police abruptly withdrew. The information minister of Punjab province, where Lahore is located, said the high court had ordered the arrest operation to be suspended until Thursday morning.
Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images
The Pakistan Army is a major power broker
But Khan fought back and for nearly a year his supporters unleashed jaw-dropping amounts of vitriol against Bajwa. The language has been surprising in a country where the institution, let alone the army chief, has only been spoken of critically in low tones because it was so widely feared.
Khan refers to the role of the army in his short speech on Twitter on Tuesday evening, when he said: “You must never accept the tyranny of these thieves, especially the one man who makes decisions for the country.”
Khan’s claims about the military’s role in his disappearance are uncontroversial, says Noor, the columnist. “I think everyone recognizes that the military is an important player in Pakistani politics,” she said. But before Khan’s dismissal, Noor says the role of the army was widely accepted by Pakistanis, especially in Punjab, the country’s most populous province and a recruiting stronghold for the army. “That’s what changed.”
“Now you see a lot of people questioning the role of the military, and that should be a concern for the military itself…because legitimacy, ultimately, is a matter of perception” , said Noor. “People are now questioning their role,” she says of the army. “They think it’s harmful.”
Imran Khan’s falling out with the army is remarkable
Khan’s falling out with the military is a stunning turning point for a man who was widely seen as groomed by the same institution for the post of prime minister, Mosharraf Zaidicolumnist and director of Tabadlab, a political think tank in the Pakistani capital.
This mirrors the fate of his Khan’s nemesis, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was groomed for power by the military before falling out with the institution.
“Imran Khan is the latest in a long line of elected civilian leaders who were incubated and organized as rulers by the military establishment itself. But once they reached the prime minister’s office, a once they have tasted power and once they have learned how to manipulate the public discourse in their favor, understudy or proxies, because the military becomes bigger than the military,” Zaidi says.
That way the clashes that raged this week around Zaman Park, as Khan’s residence is known locally, weren’t just between supporters and police, Zaidi says. “This is a clash between an army that wants to cut Imran Khan down to size and an Imran Khan who thinks it’s a role for civilians and that it’s specifically Imran Khan’s job to cut the army down to size. size,” he says.
The political crisis comes as Pakistan nears default, with less than $3 billion in foreign exchange reserves. As the economy collapses, millions of people face starvation and thousands lose their jobs.
The International Monetary Fund has so far refused to release a tranche of a bailout package that would allow Pakistan to raise more foreign funds, in part because it appears to lack confidence in the ability of the current finance minister to carry out reforms, and partly because of political instability.
Zaidi says that ultimately Pakistan’s current downfall is the fault of the military. “It is absolutely fair to blame the military for this crisis,” he says. “The reason why the people of Pakistan are facing this multifaceted crisis”, including “a very significant economic crisis”, is “because the army does not know how to withdraw from politics, but also insists on remaining engaged in politics”.