FILE PHOTO: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021.
Saiyna Bashir | Reuters
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested in a court in the capital Islamabad on Tuesday by paramilitaries, his party said.
Khan, who leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), one of the largest political parties in the country, was at the High Court in Islamabad to attend hearings on his bail applications over corruption cases against him, which he says are politically motivated.
The arrest follows recent tense exchanges between Khan, the former national cricket captain who became Pakistan’s prime minister in 2018, and the country’s powerful military.
After surviving an assassination attempt last November, Khan accused a senior military officer and current Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of being behind the attempt.
An army spokesperson censured Khan this week for “highly irresponsible and baseless allegations against a serving senior officer without any evidence”, to which Khan responded via video statement on Tuesday: “This is my army and my Pakistan. I don’t need to lie.”
The military spokesman warned of legal action if Khan sticks to his charges. Regarding the possibility of arrest, Khan said, “If anyone has a warrant, they should bring it directly to me. Bring the warrant, my lawyer will be there. I’m ready to go to jail myself.”
Khan, 70, who remains hugely popular in the country of 230 million people, was ousted from power in April 2022 after a vote of no confidence from opposition lawmakers alleging corruption and unconstitutional actions. The charges were backed by the country’s Supreme Court.
Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) greets supporters of his party during a rally in Islamabad on May 26, 2022.
Aamir Qureshi | AFP | Getty Images
In October, Pakistan’s Election Commission passed a ruling banning Khan from holding office again, sparking outrage from his many supporters who denounce a criminal act.
Khan and his supporters said last year that his ouster was a plot planned by current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the United States, the latter having a long and complicated relationship with the Pakistani government. Sharif and Washington have denied the charges.
Khan’s legal troubles only appear to have made him more popular among his base, who believe he will make a comeback and become prime minister again in elections later this year. Some political analysts also see him as a likely frontrunner, and many expect the charges against him to be dropped.
Khan is one of the most famous personalities in Pakistan and the wider South Asian region, known for leading the Pakistan national cricket team to glory in the 1980s and 90s. He later moved on to politics, founding the PTI in 1996.
Khan’s political career was marked by losses until his party, operating on a populist platform, won the most seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly in 2018 and he led the ruling coalition as Prime Minister.