Imran Khan’s arrest in Pakistan could play into his hands – but it could also inspire violence | world news

This could be a watershed moment for Pakistan.

The spectacle of seeing former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan dragged out of a courtroom and arrested by Pakistani paramilitaries shocked the world.

He predicted it long ago, however, accusing the establishment of political persecution. On the streets of Islamabad, his sudden detention enraged and energized his supporters.

On the Kashmir Highway, a key road in the city, they gathered to demand the release of their leader.

Some carry wooden sticks and throw stones at the police. But others insist they are here peacefully and being targeted by those who are meant to protect them.

A man struggling to speak in the midst of tear gas, visibly shaken, says to me, “I’m a doctor and I’ve been on the protest since yesterday and all the security, all the agencies, they’re shooting straight at people” .

The man next to him says that Pakistani institutions have turned their backs on the country and on democracy.

“The authorities don’t care about people. You can see what is happening right now. What do we want? We just want to free Imran Khan.”

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Why the unrest in Pakistan matters

A few kilometers away, it is announced to Mr. Khan that he will be detained for eight days for corruption. But his party thinks it’s a potentially huge rallying point for him.

They called for a national strike. What Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party does not have, however, is its charismatic leader to instruct it.

Without this and with very little internet, it is difficult to build and organize a critical mass to tip the scales politically. And there are many possibilities to be wrong.

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Dramatic moment Imran Khan is arrested

This arrest could of course play into Imran Khan’s hands. But it could also inspire violence – creating insecurity and providing the government with an easy reason not to achieve its central goal – a snap election.

The army has clearly decided it’s had enough of Mr Khan’s public criticism – perhaps the final straw this week when he again accused a senior military official of co-ordinating an attempt assassination against him.

Learn more:
Several dead and hundreds detained in Pakistan during protests
Imran Khan’s journey from playboy to prime minister

The military is hugely influential, feared and revered.

Seeing his offices and headquarters attacked by civilians is something we have never witnessed before. But some people you talk to here think the military deliberately allows it, so they can step in and stabilize the ship when things seem out of control.

I have been to Pakistan five times in the last eight months, to witness a legal game of cat and mouse between Mr Khan, the courts and the government.

It has at times looked like the country would break apart if Mr Khan was arrested. He has.

But how far, how far and who wins or loses – I’m not sure yet. But it looks like the next few days might help decide that.


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