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Mar 15, 2023
Imran Khan Backers Battle With Police Ready to Storm His House
(Bloomberg) -- A Pakistan court suspended police operations to arrest former premier Imran Khan at his home for the night, the latest twist in a political saga that’s overshadowing the country’s economic turmoil.
The police will comply with the court’s orders and suspend their operations until 10 a.m. Thursday, Islamabad police spokesman Taqi Jawad said. However, the Islamabad High Court upheld the arrest warrant against Khan, so the former leader’s reprieve will likely be brief.
Over the last two days police had used water cannons and fired rounds of tear gas at Khan’s supporters while teams of riot police tried to push them away from his home in the city of Lahore, television footage showed.
Fresh clashes erupted on Wednesday as Khan’s lawyers sought to cancel the arrest warrant in Islamabad High Court, which was meant to compel the former cricket star to turn up in court on March 18. He would face charges for failing to disclose funds obtained from the sale of state gifts when he was in power.
The protracted political drama could allow Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government to delay elections, due no later than October this year, citing the risks of street protests and instability. It could also jeopardize Pakistan’s attempts to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund as the country struggles to shore up finances and avert a default.
“I see the political, security and the economic chaos deepening further in Pakistan,” said Shaista Tabassum, the head of the international relations department at the University of Karachi. “This political chaos will definitely weigh on Pakistan’s efforts to revive the IMF loan.”
Sharif has, however, denied that elections would be delayed or that the loan from the IMF was at risk.
The IMF has not indicated the “political uncertainty” is causing delays in reviving the bailout, Sharif said at a meeting with a media delegation broadcast by state-run Pakistan Television. “I hope the staff-level agreement will be signed very soon and it will be sent to the IMF board.”
Pakistan dollar bonds indicated 5.4 cents higher to trade at 43.249 cents on the dollar on Wednesday, the lowest since November. The rupee also traded near a record low.
Pakistan Bonds Tumble on Khan Supporters’ Standoff With Police
The previous day, Khan’s supporters clashed with police, who fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse them and clear the makeshift tents that have sprung up in the past few months around his home. These people, which Khan’s aides say are in the thousands, have been camping there to prevent the former cricket star from being detained or arrested.
“They think the nation will go sleep when Imran Khan is jailed,” the former leader told his supporters in a video message from inside his home. “But you have to prove them wrong. You have to struggle for your rights and come out on streets.”
His supporters have held protests in several major towns and cities. If the protests spread it will prove to be another crisis for Sharif’s government. Khan is the most popular politician in Pakistan, an opinion survey showed, and his rallies have drawn tens of thousands of supporters.
Khan has said the court cases are an attempt to silence him as he pushes for early elections. Sharif has rebuffed his demands, saying the government will complete its term that ends in August and he needs to see through any IMF program.
The government said the court cases and the arrest warrants have nothing to do with the elections.
“Instead of cooperating with law enforcement officials, Imran Khan is breaking the law, defying court orders and using his party workers — women and children as human shields to evade arrest and stoke unrest,” Minister of Information Marriyum Aurangzeb said.
Pakistan’s Election Commission has, however, already hinted at difficulties in conducting local elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces after consultations with officials and the federal defense secretary. The commission cited the law and order situation as well as the country’s precarious economy as reasons for concerns.
A similar drama played out earlier this month when police circled Khan’s private residence in Lahore, with a warrant in hand for the same case but were unable to arrest him.
The charge against Khan stems from October, when the Election Commission disqualified him from holding public office for allegedly hiding money earned from selling gifts received from foreign dignitaries and world leaders while he was prime minister.
The commission’s investigation found Khan bought the gifts on concessional prices from the state treasury. His purchases included one Graff and six Rolex watches assessed to be valued at $354,714 and jewelery worth $148,039. Some of them were sold in local markets, local media reported.
Khan has been largely confined to his home in Lahore since he was shot and wounded in the leg during a rally in November. He has been skipping court appearances in the many court cases he faces, saying there are threats to his life. He has asked that the hearings be carried out in a high-security judicial complex in Islamabad.
Prime Minister Sharif has become deeply unpopular among voters, who blame his coalition for the nation’s economic crisis. The Pakistani rupee has plummeted to new lows and inflation is hovering at a record high.
His government has been forced to raise energy prices and taxes as it races to meet conditions to revive a loan with the IMF. They need to avoid a default that can make borrowing costs higher and cut off market access to credit.
--With assistance from Sudhi Ranjan Sen, Khalid Qayum and Malavika Kaur Makol.
(updates with court upholding arrest warrant.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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