05/10/2023, 16.31
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Imran Khan’s arrest sparks chaos, does not solve the country’s real problems, says Fr Mendes

by Shafique Khokhar

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf set fire to several army properties. The military has been deployed in two provinces. At least a thousand people have been arrested. Several observers warn that the crackdown could make things worse amid widespread economic and political instability.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Although former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared before a judge today, protests in his favour continued across Pakistan after his arrest yesterday.

Soldiers were deployed In the eastern province of Punjab, while provincial authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wrote to the federal government asking for troops.

Since yesterday, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is led by the 70-year-old Imran Khan, continue to riot, setting fire to vehicles and vandalising government and private property, shouting anti-military slogans.

In Lahore, a mob stormed the Lahore Corps Commander House. In Rawalpindi protesters besieged army headquarters, while in Peshawar, the Radio Pakistan building was set on fire.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said that Internet services would remain suspended until further notice.

About a thousand people were arrested in Punjab, local police announced, including Secretary General PTI Asad Umar.

Punjab’s caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi strongly condemned acts of vandalism by PTI supporters, calling them pure terrorism rather than political expression.

In April last year, Imran Khan was replaced by Shahbaz Sharif as prime minister after losing a vote of confidence in parliament. For many observers, his ouster stems from his losing favour with Pakistan’s military, the real seat of power in the country.

Khan, a former cricket star, is set to go on trial over a dozen corruption charges, which he says are politically motivated.

Specifically, his arrest yesterday follows allegations that Khan and his wife received land worth millions of dollars as a kickback from a real estate developer through a charity.

Police announced that Mr Khan will appear before a special court set up at the police headquarters where he is being held. Many of his supporters fear that if he is convicted he will be permanently barred from political life.

Back in March, police tried to arrest the former premier, but were forced to desist due his supporters’ resistance.

After he lost the confidence vote, Khan called for early elections, as support for him rose considerably; according to the latest polls, if elections were held now, he could get about 60 per cent of the vote.

“Pakistan has enough problems without the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. His arrest only makes it harder for law enforcement authorities,” said Father Bonnie Mendes, speaking to AsiaNews.

“The country already has a high rate of inflation. This situation is only going to make things worse. The ones who suffer the most are the poor. Nobody seems to worry about them,” he added.

In principle, “politicians come into politics to serve the poor but they do everything else except serve the poor. The government should take concrete actions to protect its citizens and their property.”

Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP), warns that “Violations during attacks could turn into an unstoppable series of violence.”

For him “The looting of banks and shops, the burning of vehicles and property, the closure of schools and the postponement of exams have affected society” and “The few killings so far are shocking and saddening.”

Instead, "There should be a peaceful solution through dialogue between political parties rather than the use of state power against opponents. The country is in its worst economic crisis, and political instability could make matters worse for ordinary people," he added.

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