Cricket has come to the rescue of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and star cricketer Imran Khan. An intense 2-day operation to arrest the chairman of Pakistan Tahreek-E-Insaf (PTI) has suddenly come to a halt due to a nearby PSL (Pakistan Super League) match between Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars.
Sultans booked their place in the PSL final with an 84-run victory over defending champions. After posting a competitive total of 160-5 in their 20 overs, Multan’s bowlers put on a stunning display to bowl out Lahore for a mere 76 runs.
Qalandars still have a chance to qualify for the final in the second eliminator on Friday, 17 March. Sultans will play the winners of the second eliminator in the final on Sunday 19 March. This will be Multan’s third consecutive PSL final.
Supporters of Imran Khan Try to Stop the Arrest
Khan’s Lahore residence had been surrounded by police since Monday, 13 March in an attempt to arrest him on Toshakhana corruption charges for failing to appear in court. They have also clashed with Khan’s supporters gathered outside Zaman Park to prevent the arrest. However, they withdrew on Wednesday, 15 March following court orders to allow the smooth continuation of the PSL tournament. Reportedly, the suspension will last till Friday, 17 March.
During the 24 hours of violence, protesters set vehicles on fire and pelted the police with stones and bricks. The police responded with tear gas and water cannons but failed to disperse the crowd.
Following the Zaman Park riots, Imran Khan has been accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act for instigating clashes between his party workers and police. The FIR, filed against him, alleges that PTI workers committed “grave crimes” at his direction, leading to charges of criminal conspiracy against Khan and his associates.
The FIR includes charges related to unlawful assembly of armed individuals, refusal to receive the summons, obstructing justice, and harbouring criminals. The police claim that 63 of their personnel, including the DIG of Islamabad, were injured in the clash and PTI workers are also accused of creating difficulties for citizens, using petrol bombs, and damaging state property.
Khan is facing allegations that he sold state gifts while in office, but he denies the accusations, saying they are politically motivated. In August 2022, the Toshakhana controversy was brought to the fore when the coalition government, led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), filed a case against Imran Khan.
The case claimed that Khan failed to disclose information on gifts received by Toshakhana and the illegal sale of some of these gifts. Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division established in 1974. It stores gifts and other expensive items received by public officials, and officials are required to report these gifts to the Cabinet Division.
However, when Imran became prime minister in 2018, he refused to disclose details of the presents he received during his tenure, citing concerns about harming relations with other countries. Later, he wrote a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan admitting to selling at least 4 gifts, including watches, expensive cufflinks, a valuable pen, and a ring. He also stated that he had bought these items from the government by paying a percentage of their value.
Khan has alleged that the police’s “real intent” is not to arrest him but “to abduct and assassinate” him so his rivals can roam freely. This has led to protests across major cities in Pakistan, including Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, and Rawalpindi. Khan has been a vocal critic of the government and the country’s armed forces since he was ousted through a no-confidence motion in April 2022.
Keeping Up the Pressure
According to Marriyum Aurangzeb, a government minister, the police were simply following court orders and their actions were not related to the upcoming elections. She also accused Khan of using his party members, including women and children, as human shields to avoid arrest and incite violence.
Since his removal from office, He has been all over the country giving fiery speeches, advocating for early elections, which are scheduled for later this year. Additionally, he has continued to apply pressure on his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, by organizing demonstrations and holding him responsible for an alleged assassination attempt last year in which Khan’s leg was injured.