Former Pakistan PM Khan Marks Court Presence as Supporters Clash With Police

Former Pakistan PM Khan Marks Court Presence as Supporters Clash With Police
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, waves from the vehicle as he leaves from Lahore to appear before Islamabad High Court, in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 18, 2023. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

ISLAMABAD—Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister, marked his presence at court on corruption charges in the country’s capital on March 18, his aide said, complying with judicial orders following a standoff with police that led to intense clashes with his supporters.

The trial court in Islamabad canceled the warrants for Khan’s arrest as a result of his presence, local media Geo TV reported.

Khan, who held office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a spate of legal challenges, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on March 14, sparking clashes between supporters and police, which also took place on March 18.

Khan aide Fawad Chaudhry told Reuters the former premier’s presence had been recorded officially by the court and he returned to his home in the city of Lahore.

According to local media, Khan’s vehicle reached the judicial complex in Islamabad amid clashes between police and his supporters. They reported that, given the chaos around the complex, he was unable to physically enter the courtroom, and was ultimately allowed by the judge to sign his presence from his vehicle.

He was ordered to address charges in court on March 18 of unlawfully selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office. Khan says he followed legal procedures in acquiring the gifts.

Earlier that day, police had entered Khan’s home in Lahore after he left for his court appearance in Islamabad and arrested several of his supporters over allegations of attacks against officers during clashes earlier in the week.

Another Khan aide, Shireen Mazari, claimed that police broke down the front gate of Khan’s home.

In Islamabad, the police chief told Geo News that Khan’s supporters had attacked police near the court and fired teargas shells, prompting police to fire more teargas back.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took to Twitter to criticize Khan, saying he was using people as human shields and was attempting to intimidate the judiciary.

Nationwide Protests

Khan has led nationwide protests since his ouster from power last year and has had a spate of cases registered against him.

Earlier this week, police and Khan’s supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.

Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he has formed a committee to lead his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.

Khan, who was shot and wounded while campaigning in November, said in the interview the threat to his life is greater than before and asserted—without providing evidence—that his political opponents and the military want to block him from standing in elections later this year.

The military and government didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sharif’s government has denied being behind the cases against Khan. The military, which has an outsized role in Pakistan, having ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history, has said it remains neutral toward politics.

The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case as he had failed to appear on previous hearings despite summonses.

On his assurance that he would appear on March 18, the court granted Khan protection against arrest, but he said he feared the police and government planned to take him into custody.

“It is now clear that, despite my having gotten bail in all my cases, the (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) govt intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their mala fide intentions, I am proceeding to Islamabad & the court bec(ause) I believe in rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.

“It is also obvious now that the entire siege of Lahore was not about ensuring I appear before the court in a case but was intended to take me away to prison so that I am unable to lead our election campaign.”

Pakistan’s information minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police were complying with court orders.

Clash Outside Lahore Home

During the March 14 arrest attempt, hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the premises. Authorities said they were attacked by gasoline bombs, iron rods, and slingshots.

Many of the supporters stayed back to guard Khan’s home as he left for Islamabad on March 18. The police chief for Punjab province, Usman Anwar, told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s house to intercept people who had been involved in earlier clashes with police and had arrested 61 people, including for throwing gasoline bombs.

Khan’s party shared with journalists footage that appeared to show police in the garden of the Lahore home beating his supporters with batons.

Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News that police recovered weapons from the premises outside Khan’s home and had a warrant to carry out the search. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel didn’t enter the residence, remaining in the garden and driveway.

By Ariba Shahid and Akhtar Soomro