A clash between law enforcement officers and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers that began on Tuesday afternoon continued into Wednesday, as the party continued to resist efforts by police to take former prime minister Imran Khan into custody over an arrest warrant issued in the Toshakana case.
Issued by an Islamabad District and Sessions Court, the arrest warrant for Khan directs police to take him into custody and produce him in court for the next hearing on March 18. Khan has continuously refused to appear in court in the case, despite repeated summons, citing “security threats” or questioning the maintainability of the case or claiming he is not yet fully recovered from the shooting on his long march at Wazirabad in November 2022.
In a video statement issued early on Wednesday, the PTI chairman claimed police were once again preparing to launch a fresh salvo against party workers to ensure his arrest. He also maintained that he had attempted to give a “surety bond” to the police assuring them that he would appear in court on March 18 and thus did not need to be arrested. This isn’t the first time Khan has given such a surety before rubbishing it, in line with his widely acknowledged “U-turn” policy. Earlier this month, Khan had similarly assured the police he would appear in court for the next hearing on March 13; he opted to skip it and lead a rally in Lahore instead.
Earlier, in a separate video statement, Khan had urged his workers to keep fighting for the “rule of law” even if he were arrested to ensure the “struggle” continues. “If I’m arrested or killed, fight for Haqeeqi Azadi [true freedom] must continue,” he said, later telling the BBC that he stood for the rule of law. “I had taken protective bail till March 18 and there is no point as to why they came to arrest me on March 14,” he said in response to a question about him not following the law of the land. Despite these claims, Khan has repeatedly flouted the same law, demanding that he be treated leniently because he is a “popular” leader.
On Tuesday night, on the call of the PTI, party workers protested in various cities across Pakistan—from Karachi to Faisalabad, Rawalpindi to Peshawar, Quetta to Sargodha—triggering further clashes with local police that caused injuries to personnel and PTI supporters alike. The conflict was most intense in Lahore, where the PTI used women and children as human shields to discourage police action. The road in front of Zaman Park took on the appearance of a warzone, echoing scenes last seen in the Punjab capital during the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan’s protest in 2021.
While police resorted to tear gas shelling, water cannons and baton-charges in attempts to disperse the protesters, the PTI workers responded by pelting the unarmed cops with stones—some ripped from the footpaths lining the road—using petrol bombs, and vandalizing the surrounding areas. According to police, at least 33 personnel have been injured in the clashes, including DIG Operations Islamabad Shahzad Bukhari. There have also been injuries reported among PTI workers, but there is as yet no confirmation of how many.
On Wednesday morning, paramilitary Rangers were deployed in addition to police as law enforcers renewed attempts to arrest Khan. The PTI protested this, with party leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain saying the Islamabad High Court was set to hear a petition seeking the suspension of the warrant and the party would act in accordance with its orders.
Condemning the clashes, President Arif Alvi—who is affiliated with the PTI—said he was “deeply saddened” by the events of the day. Describing the enforcement of the arrest warrant as “unhealthy revenge politics,” he urged the government to focus on the economy rather than “destroying” the political landscape.
From the government, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar lamented that one person’s “ego” had triggered the clash in Lahore. Similarly, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Interior and Legal Affairs Attaullah Tarar called the PTI chief to stop hiding and submit himself for arrest. “Imran Khan has made his workers his shields and refuses to come out of his bunker,” he said, stressing that police were acting solely on court orders and the government had nothing to do with the arrest.