A heavy contingent of Punjab Rangers joined the police personnel near Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence here on Wednesday to launch a fresh attempt at arresting the ousted Pakistani premier for failing to appear in court on graft charges.
Lahore’s Zaman Park area has turned into a battleground after Khan’s defiant supporters engaged in pitched battles with police personnel on Tuesday to stop them from arresting their leader, resulting in injuries to dozens of policemen.
The upscale area where 70-year-old Khan lives remained under siege on Wednesday as the government sent Pakistani Rangers to aid police teams who struggled on Tuesday to muscle their way through a ring of enraged Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters to arrest Khan.
The police, with their riot gear on, closed in on Khan’s home in order to comply with the court’s orders to arrest him in the Toshakhana case. “Clearly the ‘arrest’ claim was mere drama because the real intent was to abduct and assassinate. From tear gas and water cannons, they have now resorted to shooting. I signed a surety bond last evening, but the DIG refused to even entertain it. There is no doubt of their mala fide intent,” Khan tweeted on Wednesday.’
As the Pakistan Rangers joined the ‘Arrest Imran Khan Operation’, the PTI claimed that live bullets were being fired at the party workers present on the roads leading to Khan’s residence. Khan also uploaded pictures of the bullets and slammed the Pakistan Army for taking part in the police operation.
“After our workers and leadership faced a police onslaught since yesterday morning of tear gas, cannons with chemical water, rubber bullets, and live bullets this morning, we now have Rangers taking over and are now in direct confrontation with the people,” Khan tweeted.
“My question to the establishment, to those who claim they are ‘neutral,” is: Is this your idea of neutrality, Rangers directly confronting unarmed protestors and the leadership of the largest political party when their leader is facing an illegal warrant and a case already in court and when the government of crooks is trying to abduct and possibly murder him?” he wrote on Wednesday.
In an interview with the BBC in Urdu, Khan said it seemed the alleged promises made to PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif by the military establishment were being kept.
“I don’t understand why the establishment and the army chief are backing the PDM government even though it is damaging the reputation of the state institution (army),” he said. Khan said the PML-N government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would not last a single day without the crutches of the establishment.
“There are no attempts to get in touch with Army Chief Gen Asim Munir,” he said. The police, with their riot gear on, closed Khan’s home on Tuesday in order to comply with the court orders. Talking about the clashes that ensued after the operation started, Khan said police came “all of a sudden” to arrest him without informing him.
“We saw on the news that the police were coming to arrest me,” he said. “I’m mentally prepared to spend the night in a cell, and I’m not sure how many nights. I am all prepared for that. But I think they are determined [this time] and they want me behind bars,” he was quoted as saying by Geo News.
Fearing the worst, various PTI leaders, including Khan himself, appealed to party workers to rush to Zaman Park, where they served as human shields and stood between Khan’s residence and the police. The police fired tear gas shells but were met with resistance and found PTI workers undeterred. For more than 11 hours, PTI workers engaged the capital’s police in pitched battles that continued late into the night.