Protests broke out across Pakistan on Tuesday, May 9, after an anti-corruption agency arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan at Islamabad High Court.
Pakistan: Former PM Imran Khan arrested by security forces
Dozens of supporters blocked streets in Khan’s hometown of Lahore, where police have been put on high alert. Protesters also blocked a major road in the port city of Karachi, according to Reuters witnesses.
His arrest comes at a time when ordinary Pakistanis are reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades, with record high inflation and anemic growth. It also comes amid a dispute with the military dating to 2021.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had issued Khan’s arrest warrant on May 1, according to an order seen by Reuters.
The specific corruption allegations on Khan were not immediately clear.
Imran Khan’s arrest is likely to aggravate Pakistan’s already precarious political situation. The country is currently embroiled in a number of economic and political challenges, some of which include the following:
The South Asian nation of 220 million people is running out of dollars and inflation is running at over 36 percent.
An IMF bailout programme, which expires in June, has been stalled since November.
Foreign exchange reserves at USD 4.457 billion cover barely a month’s worth of imports. Debt relief from friendly countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has yet to materialize fully.
A revenue shortfall for the fiscal year through June is projected to overshoot targets substantially by most estimates, while the rupee remains weak.
Industrial activity has virtually ground to a halt as the central bank has raised interest rates to a record 21 percent to battle inflation, worsening already-high unemployment and poverty.
Women and children have been killed in stampedes at food distribution centers as food inflation rises to an all-time high of 40 percent.
Pakistan is in a constitutional standoff after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government in April rejected a Supreme Court order to hold local elections in Punjab province by the middle of May. Non-compliance could result in court action against the government.
The court has previously sacked two prime ministers.
Khan, arrested for alleged corruption and ousted as prime minister last year, had been ratcheting up pressure on the government through a sustained political campaign as he vied to return to power.
Authorities had made several attempts to arrest Khan since March, which had resulted in clashes between his supporters and law enforcement personnel.
Pakistan governments typically seek the backing of the powerful military, which has ruled the country for more than 30 of its 75 years. Military coups have followed political chaos three times.
Khan’s arrest came a day after the military issued a rare statement denouncing him for making allegations against a serving officer.
The government says it plans a nationwide operation to root out Islamist militants in the face of recent attacks.
The last such operation, in 2014, cost the country billions of dollars, killed hundreds and resulted in the displacement of about a million people.