Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside Khans house, in Lahore, Pakistan March 16, 2023. — Reuters

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside Khan’s house, in Lahore, Pakistan March 16, 2023. — Reuters
  • Tense calm prevails around Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence.
  • Police await court orders to move ahead to arrest Imran Khan.
  • PTI supports armed with sticks, iron rods patrolling Zaman Park.

Hundreds of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters shielded the party chairman Imran Khan’s home on Friday to thwart his arrest as the former prime minister waited to hear a ruling on whether security forces could again come after him for failing to attend the hearing in court.

Ahead of the court decision, a tense calm prevailed in Lahore Zaman Park which earlier this week was the scene of hostilities between PTI workers and Punjab Police that were advancing on the Khan’s house to produce him before the court in a case in which he is accused of selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries without due legal process, while he was prime minister.

Khan denies the charges.

Even though there was no police presence on Friday, witnesses said Khan’s supporters, armed with sticks and iron rods, stood guard outside his home.

PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chadhury said his party, had filed another plea on Friday at the Islamabad High Court seeking suspension of the warrant after a lower court had rejected a similar plea a day earlier.

“Our supporters are outside Imran Khan’s house but I don’t think matters will become extreme,” he added.

Police are waiting for the court ruling on the warrant before taking any action, the provincial interim government’s information minister Amir Mir said.

Today’s hearing

During today’s hearing — resumed by Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh — the inspector-general of Punjab (IG), the advocate general and Fawad Chaudhry appeared in the court.

Praising the decision of Justice Saleem, Fawad said: “The lives of the people of Lahore have been saved because of you.”

He said that the police have assured to provide security to the PTI chief. “We have backed off from conducting a public gathering in Lahore but we will hold one on Monday,” he added.

Justice Saleem remarked that he had suggested postponing the public gathering.

“Imran Khan’s surety bonds have been filed,” said the PTI leader.

The judge said that everyone has to follow the law, adding that he would not spare the wrongdoers. “We have installed cameras and I will not stop action against the violators of the law and order,” he said.

IG Punjab said that he had directed the political party to not turn any part of the city into a “no-go area”.

Justice Saleem directed Fawad to submit an application before any public rally. The court also remarked that containers should not be used to block the roads.

The advocate general said that they needed access to the Zaman Park area.

At this, Fawad said that they (the government) wanted access to arrest the people. “Arrest people after nominating them,” he added.

Meanwhile, Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Tariq Rahim assured the court of PTI chief’s appearance.

IG Punjab asked the court if the police were allowed to go in if they were pelted with stones or Molotov cocktails were hurled at them. The top Punjab cop requested the court for access. Fawad replied: “We give them access”.

At this, the court directed the parties to come up with a solution.

The IG said that they would not allow anyone to become a target of retaliatory action. “We have technology and witnesses, not just pictures,” he added.

He also assured the court that no harm would be done to anyone.

“How will the transparency be ensured?” the court asked the IG.

At this, the IG said that everything would be done fairly. “If we have proof, we will not ask for permission to arrest someone,” he said.

Justice Saleem said that an application should be filed for Imran Khan’s security.

The judge will also decide on the method to implement the warrant, it was observed.

Later, the court adjourned the hearing till 3pm.

Riots and retreat

The violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which protesters hurled petrol bombs and security forces used tear gas and water cannon, had raised fears of a new political stand-off in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is already grappling with an economic crisis.

The arrest warrant was issued by a court in Islamabad when Khan, 70, failed to appear before it over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022.

The Election Commission of Pakistan found him guilty and barred Khan from holding public office for one parliamentary term.

Khan has said he was willing to submit a written undertaking that he would voluntarily appear before the court on Saturday, but the court said such an undertaking was insufficient. It was unclear whether the court hearing on Friday would take this undertaking into consideration.

The legal proceedings against Khan began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has been demanding a snap election and holding nationwide protests, and was shot and wounded in one of those rallies.

Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan’s demands, saying an election would be held as scheduled later this year.

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