ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s major cities were hit by deadly riots and chaos again on Wednesday after a court in the capital Islamabad ordered former prime minister Imran Khan to be remanded in custody for eight days on corruption charges. Troops have been deployed on the roads of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two of the country’s largest provinces. The arrest of the former leader led to chaos. At least eight people have been killed in the clashes, according to a senior government official, but Khan’s group claims the actual death toll is in the dozen.
At least four people were killed when supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party stormed the offices of national broadcaster Radio Pakistan in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, officials said. It was amid many expressions of anger among Khan’s supporters after his arrest on Tuesday morning when he appeared in court to face corruption charges.
The shooting was heard from Peshawar’s Bala Hisar fort, which houses a military installation. A protester was killed in the southwestern city of Quetta on Tuesday, bringing the officially confirmed death toll from two days of rioting to at least five. The PTI, however, claimed that around 50 people were killed and over 1,000 arrested.
Police said in a statement on Wednesday that officials in Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, have arrested at least 945 Khan supporters since Tuesday, including senior PTI leader Asad Umar. Dozens of Khan supporters were detained in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and elsewhere. At least 157 police officers were injured in clashes with Khan supporters, officials said.
Schools across the country were closed and main streets were quiet or deserted as people not involved in the protests largely chose to stay indoors. Several major social media platforms in the country were offline and internet connections were either suspended or cut off as authorities shut down communications to quell unrest.
Khan was Deposed last year, the former national cricket star is one of Pakistan’s most popular politicians despite losing a no-confidence vote in parliament. He came to power in 2018, backed by the country’s powerful military, but has since clashed spectacularly with the army leadership, even publicly impeaching a senior officer. Conspiracy to kill him.
When he was arrested on Tuesday, Khan was present in court on several corruption charges brought by the Islamabad police. As he appeared in court, dozens of agents of the National Accountability Bureau, backed by paramilitary forces, entered the courtroom by breaking windows after Khan’s guards refused to open the door.
Khan’s supporters quickly stormed the military headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, but did not reach the main office building of army chief General Asim Munir.
Other protesters tried to reach the military-backed incumbent Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif’s office and residence in Lahore, but were chased away by police with batons. Others attacked vehicles carrying soldiers and hit armed soldiers with sticks.
So far, authorities say neither police nor soldiers have opened fire on protesters. Unverified videos posted on social media since Tuesday show men in plain clothes shooting during protests in several cities.
Pakistan’s military issued its first response to the unrest on Wednesday, calling the attacks “targeting army properties and installations” a “dark chapter” in the country and vowing that it would “not allow anyone to take the law into their hands.”
The army said Khan was arrested “in accordance with the NAB statement and the law” and called the rioters against his arrest “miscreants” trying to “inflame the nation’s passions to achieve their limited and selfish objectives”.
None of Khan’s party leaders condemned the attack on the military, but they publicly called for the protests to remain peaceful.
The violent unrest has prompted calls from the United States and the United Kingdom for their citizens to avoid traveling to Pakistan and to take all possible steps to stay safe if already in the country.