Eight killed in Pakistan as military accuses Khan of ‘pushing for civil war’

Mass protests in Pakistan after Imran Khan's arrest

Pakistan has descended into its second day of chaos, with at least eight people dead, dozens more injured and thousands arrested, as the military accused former prime minister Imran Khan and his senior affiliates of “pushing for civil war”.

The violence broke out after dozens of agents from the National Accountability Bureau, backed by paramilitary troops, stormed the courtroom where Mr Khan was facing several corruption charges and forcibly confiscated the former leader to put him on trial privately on additional charges. 

Supporters of Mr Khan reacted by attacking the military’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, as well as attempting to storm the residence of the incumbent prime minister Shebaz Sharif in Lahore. 

Footage of the chaos in multiple provinces across Pakistan showed supporters of Mr Khan clashing with baton-wielding police as fires rage in the background. 

Police said on Wednesday that officers in Pakistan’s biggest province, Punjab, had arrested at least 945 Khan supporters since Tuesday, including senior PTI leader Asad Umar. 

At least 25 police vehicles were set on fire in the province, with 130 officers injured in clashes and more than a dozen official buildings looted, the government said, blaming Khan’s supporters.

Dozens of Khan supporters were also detained in Islamabad, where a police office was set on fire, as well as Karachi, Peshawar and elsewhere. At least 157 police officers have been injured in clashes with Khan supporters, officials said.

Schools across the country were also closed while social media services were shut down as authorities attempted to clamp down on communications to disturb protesters’ ability to galvanise further action. 

The Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the military, described the outbreaks of violence as a “black chapter” and accused Mr Khan and his party of creating an anti-military “conspiracy” to “push Pakistan into civil war”. 

“We are well aware that behind it were orders, directives and complete pre-planning by some sinister party leadership,” the statement added.

Mr Khan came into power in 2018 with the backing of the military but they have since fallen out. In November last year, Mr Khan publicly accused a senior military officer of plotting to assassinate him. 

A court ruled on Wednesday that the former prime minister could be held in custody for eight days in relation to the corruption charges made against him. 

Members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called the former prime minister’s arrest a “state abduction”. 

They said the makeshift hearing in the police station, which they were allegedly barred from attending, was a “kangaroo court”. 

At a press conference on Wednesday, the minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, denied that the government had any role in Khan’s arrest. 

“There is no political victimisation,” he said. “Khan’s arrest was ordered by the national accountability bureau in a corruption case, and Islamabad high court declared the arrest in accordance with law.”

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On Wednesday morning, police said some 2,000 protesters still surrounded the fire-damaged residence in Lahore of Lt. Gen. Salman Fayyaz Ghani, a top regional commander. 

They chanted slogans at the military, including “Khan is our red line and you have crossed it.” 

Ghani and his family members were moved to a safer place when the mob on Tuesday first attacked their sprawling house.

The military has not commented on the attacks on its facilities. None of the leaders from Khan’s party denounced the attacks on the military, though they have appealed to their supporters to be peaceful.

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