After a day-long escalation continued between PTI supporters and law enforcement agencies outside ex-premier Imran Khan’s residence, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday stopped the police operation at Zaman Park till 10am tomorrow (March 16) while the Islamabad High Court (IHC) disposed of a plea seeking the cancellation of the PTI chief’s arrest warrants.
The situation at Zaman Park was peaceful even as droves of PTI workers remained outside Imran’s residence. Dawn.com’s correspondent at the scene said that police was not present and the roads had been cleared for traffic.
On Wednesday morning, Islamabad Police, backed by Punjab Police and Rangers resumed efforts — which began on Tuesday — to arrest the ex-premier in connection with the Toshkhana case. Imran has skipped indictment several times, which led to the judge issuing non-bailable arrest warrants for him.
However, they were met with strong resistance from PTI workers, who pelted stones at them. The police responded with volleys of tear gas.
After an hours-long back and forth — described by international media as “pitched battles” — the personnel pulled back to Mall Road, from where they cleared out. Dawn.com’s correspondent at the scene confirmed the developments.
- LHC directs police to stop operation outside Zaman Park till 10am tomorrow; IHC disposes of plea seeking cancellation of Imran’s arrest warrants
- PTI workers celebrate outside Zaman Park as law enforcement agencies pull back
- Police say operation halted to accommodate Pakistan Super League
- Clashes reported between police and PTI supporters
- Imran says the real intent behind arrest is to “abduct and assassinate” him
- Ex-premier pins hope on establishment and judiciary to “end this farce”
- Punjab police chief says 54 policemen “seriously injured”
LHC stops police operation
LHC’s Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, while hearing a petition filed by PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeking to stop the “atrocities” outside Zaman Park, passed these orders.
Earlier, the court had instructed Punjab Inspector General Usman Anwar, the provincial chief secretary and Islamabad police (operations) head to appear in court by 3pm.
As the LHC took up Chaudhry’s petition, Imran’s lawyer stated that what had happened outside Zaman Park today was a violation of fundamental rights.
“Imran’s residence has become a war zone. The police have been stationed there for the past 21 hours,” he said.
For his part, Punjab Advocate General Shaun Gill said that the matter was pending before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and Fawad’s plea could not be heard in the LHC.
Justice Sheikh inquired about the Islamabad police official who was heading the operation to arrest Imran in Lahore and summoned him to court.
Here, the government’s lawyer said that the Islamabad advocate general represented the capital’s police.
“We have to fix this matter somehow,” the court remarked and warned that the court would issue arrest warrants for the Islamabad police official if he didn’t appear in court.
It also summoned the Punjab police chief and the provincial chief secretary.
When the officials appeared in the LHC, the government’s lawyer said that the Islamabad police official couldn’t appear in court, adding that the IHC had reserved its verdict on a PTI plea seeking cancellation of Imran’s arrest warrants.
The court then asked the Punjab police chief what was the solution to the present situation to which the latter replied that he was in a meeting with the Election Commission of Pakistan when the Islamabad police arrived in Lahore.
“The Islamabad police asked us for assistance and showed the arrest warrants. At first, 14 officers of ours were injured [in the operation] after which 300 more officials were deployed,” IG Anwar said.
He stated that 59 more policemen sustained injuries during the clash between PTI supporters and police. “We had decided none of the officials will use any weapons during the operation.
“We controlled the situation with the help of water canons and tear gas,” the Punjab police official told the court.
He further said that PTI supporters hurled stones at police vans, threw petrol bombs at officers and state machinery was set on fire. “Rangers was called in after this and only people who attacked the police were arrested.”
The chief secretary also said that the public suffered a lot during the entire episode.
For his part, PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the court that he was at Zaman Park when the operation had commenced. “PTI is a party that believes in the rule of law.”
He stated that he had made several attempts to talk to the head of operations of the Islamabad police but to no avail.
“The police promised a ceasefire but then they started shelling inside Imran Khan’s house,” Qureshi told the court. “In my opinion, the police want a tragedy.”
Here, Justice Sheikh remarked: “They [the PTI] have filed a plea in the IHC against the arrest warrants … until a decision comes, we can halt the police operation.
“I want peace in Lahore,” he added.
IHC disposes of PTI plea against Imran’s arrest warrants
Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) disposed of a petition seeking the cancellation of arrest warrants issued for Imran in the Toshakhana case.
The party had filed the petition after police and PTI workers had come face to face outside Zaman Park a day earlier. The petition was taken up by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq.
The court announced the verdict after reserving it earlier in the day and directed Imran to submit the undertaking, wherein he said he would appear in court on March 18, to the trail court. The IHC said that the trail court should decide on Imran’s undertaking in accordance with the law and upheld the trial court’s order in the case.
On Monday, an Islamabad district and sessions court issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the PTI chief after his persistent absences in the Toshakhana reference. It had also instructed the police to arrest the former prime minister and present him in court by March 18.
In the detailed order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the IHC said: “Since the non-bailable warrants of arrest have been issued by the learned trial court for the purposes of procuring the attendance of petitioner, the petitioner has undertaken to appear before the learned trial court. The competent court is the learned trial court, it is to satisfy itself regarding the undertaking and pass appropriate order as to the status of the warrants.”
The court also noted that it would not be out of place to observe that the law and order situation in Lahore was a “sad state of affairs” where the state was being prevented to carry out its obligation for complying with the orders of the court.
“Such defiance of the law is not acceptable in any civilised society and the law needs to be adhered to by the citizens/people of any country in general and persons in the helm of the affairs particularly. The phrase ‘rule of law’ is not a rhetoric and has different connotations, including obedience to law and any defiance thereof naturally has consequences because law of the land has to and should prevail at all costs.”
The IHC said that the lower court’s order did not suffer from any legality per se and said that the matter should be place before the trial court which issued/reissued the non-bailable arrest warrants.
As the IHC hearing commenced today, Justice Farooq asked Imran’s counsel, Khawaja Haris Ahmed, if he had addressed all the objections that the court had previously raised on the petition.
The judge stated that the petition would only be taken up for hearing once it had been scheduled to which Haris urged the court to hear the plea today.
At that, Justice Farooq highlighted that the court had taken up the plea earlier. “Directions were also issued, but unfortunately, what happened?” he asked.
Haris reiterated his request, stating that the court should hear the PTI’s plea, and insisting that he would legally convince the bench on the matter.
“Earlier, this court had granted relief. But what happened to our order?” asked the IHC chief justice, adding that the court would examine the possible repercussions of not implementing its orders.
Here, Haris said that the “entire situation is visible to you”.
However, Justice Farooq replied: “It’s all because of you. The court had provided a respectable path which was not followed.”
The court subsequently directed the PTI lawyer to remove objections from the petition so that the application could be taken up.
After the hearing was adjourned, PTI’s Barrister Gohar told the media that the proceedings will resume after the IHC’s division bench hears other cases. “We will utilise this break to address the objections that have been marked on our petition,” he added.
When the hearing resumed at 2pm, PTI counsel Haris started presenting his arguments on the petition. He said that his client had challenged the court orders of March 13.
The lawyer explained that Imran had been asked to appear before the court on the said day, but he was at home. “Therefore, we filed an exemption plea.”
He contended that the issuance of arrest warrants was out of the question as there was a difference between criminal cases and bail requests. “We also urged the trial court not to issue warrants until the maintainability of the petition was decided.”
He also contested the nature of the complaint, arguing that the complainant was not authorised to file such a plea.
Haris maintained that the ECP was not entitled to send a criminal case to a trial court. But the IHC chief justice stressed that appearing in court was mandatory regardless of the case for which the summons was issued.
Haris presented an affidavit signed by Imran and urged the judge to suspend the arrest warrants issued for his client. The lawyer expressed regret over the current situation in Lahore and hoped for a swift resolution.
Justice Farooq reiterated his commitment to upholding the integrity of the court, emphasising that respect for the judiciary was of paramount importance to him.
The judge remarked that whether it was a civil court or a trial court, one must show respect to the court. He also stated that judicial orders were issued with a signature as the courts do not have musclemen to demonstrate power.
Justice Farooq also asked Additional Advocate General Munawar Iqbal where the government would keep Imran if he was arrested four days before the scheduled date for his court appearance.
The AAG replied that similar affidavits had been issued previously, but the person who submitted them did not appear before the court. Iqbal also questioned Imran’s reason for skipping his court appearance, despite being a national leader.
Justice Farooq remarked that politicians of the past and present did not do enough for building the society and stated that “I have to take into consideration the dignity and other aspects of the court.”
PTI jubilant after LEAs pull back
After the law enforcement agencies pulled back, celebrations erupted at Zaman Park, where PTI supporters cheered “chasing the Rangers away”.
Another video posted on PTI’s official Twitter showed Imran Khan, donning a gas mask, addressing party supporters outside his Zaman Park residence.
A senior police official told Reuters that the court-ordered operation to arrest Imran was halted temporarily to accommodate the Pakistan Super League (PSL) match, the country’s top sporting event which is being played at a stadium a few km (miles) away from the PTI chief’s neighbourhood.
“We can’t afford to risk the security and safety of the PSL,” said the official, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media. “The court orders will be implemented.”
Earlier, the PTI alleged that Imran’s Zaman Park residence was “under extreme attack” as it posted footage of armed law enforcement personnel opening fire.
In a tweet from its official account posted at 11:48am today, PTI shared a video alleging “open firing by Rangers and Police”, without specifying when the video was filmed.
It added that Zaman Park is “under extreme attack”. The footage could not be independently verified by Dawn.com and it could not be ascertained if it was from today.
Dawn.com’s correspondent outside Zaman Park said police made multiple attempts to enter Imran’s residence but they were thwarted by PTI supporters, who threw plastic bottles filled with petrol at the security personnel.
In response, police officials fired tear gas shells at the protesters.
On the other hand, PTI supporters set fire to a water tanker of the Lahore Waste Management Authority, motorcycles and other vehicles in the vicinity. They also ransacked a warden’s office on Mall Road.
At 10:30am, the armoured police vans, once again, began moving towards the entrance of Imran’s residence.
However, they retreated after nearly two hours of clashes. During the chaos, a food truck sent for PTI supporters was set on fire.
Imran pins hope on establishment and judiciary
Earlier, in an address to the nation via video link, Imran said that the “hope lies with the courts and the establishment” in ending this “farce” as law enforcement agencies tried to make their way to his residence.
“It will [soon] be out of our hands… the kinds of actions that are taking place… the boys (workers) outside are not listening to me. When this anarchy and shelling is taking place against them, they won’t listen to me anymore. I have no control over them now,” the PTI chief said.
Hence, Imran said, the hope now laid with the judiciary and the establishment.
“And the second hope we are seeing is from the establishment of this country […] do you have an interest in Pakistan or not? … end the farce that is happening [and] think about the country. Do not work on this London plan. This country is heading towards destruction. It is my appeal to all of you that now, think of this country.”
With LEAs at the entrance of his house, Imran asked what his crime was, saying that “never have we ever witnessed this … never have I ever seen such an attack on a political leader’s house”.
Imran stated that the case against him was being heard at the F8 Katcheri in Islamabad, where blasts have been reported in the past. “So many lawyers and judges have lost their lives.”
The Interior Ministry, he went on to say, “has itself said that my life is in danger and yet again they are doing all this”.
“What did I want? All I had asked for was for the case to be transferred to a court with adequate security. But arrest warrants were issued for me. It is unprecedented that an ex-prime minister has been refused security and is being attacked.”
Speaking with a stack of spent tear gas shells on his desk, Imran said that not just shells but bullets too were being fired at his residence and called the entire chaos a “plan”.
“I was ready to go [to jail] and my bags were packed but my workers stopped me … they knew that ever since we were ousted, PTI leaders were subjected to custodial torture … and my workers feared the same for me.”
Imran also called on “those who call themselves neutral” and asked them why Rangers were sent to his house.
SCBAP condemns ‘excessive use of force’ against Imran
The Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) issued a statement condemning all violations of the law and “any excesses committed by law enforcement agencies or anybody who has taken the law in their own hands”.
The statement, issued by SCBAP President Abid S. Zuberi and Secretary Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, said the association stood for rule of law, the Constitution and the dignity of the judgements issued by the courts.
“Any form of violence is not acceptable in a democratic country governed by rule of law and the Constitution. The use of excessive force against the former prime minister of Pakistan is highly condemned. Furthermore, the method of service of warrants is also highly arbitrary, vindictive and not in accordance with [the] law. Therefore, such violence must be stopped forthwith,” the statement said.
“Every person must be treated in accordance with [the] law and due process must be adopted. The law enforcement agencies must not use excessive force and citizens must not initiate confrontation or damage public and private property. It is incumbent upon all citizens to obey orders passed by all courts,” the statement said.
54 policemen ‘seriously injured’: Punjab IG
In an interview with DawnNewsTV on Wednesday, Punjab Inspector General Usman Anwar said that since yesterday, 54 policemen had been “seriously injured” in clashes with PTI workers, while 32 officers were given first aid by Rescue 1122.
He said that there was no “operation” underway outside the Zaman Park residence and that the police personnel were being stoned by PTI supporters. Even vehicles of law enforcement agencies were burnt down.
“As far as tear gas and water canons are concerned, we are using them so that the arrest warrants can be executed. The law is the same for everyone,” the senior official said.
The IG clarified that all the roads in Lahore were open for traffic, except for the ones near Zaman Park and the same was the case with educational institutions in the city.
‘Real intent behind arrest to abduct, assassinate’
In a series of tweets earlier today, Imran said that after a day of facing tear gas, cannons with chemical water, rubber bullets and live bullets, “we now have Rangers taking over and are now in direct confrontation with the people”.
“My question to the establishment, to those who claim they are ‘neutral’: Is this your idea of neutrality, Rangers directly confronting unarmed protestors & leadership of the largest political party when their leader is facing an illegal warrant & case already in court & when govt of crooks trying to abduct & possibly murder him?” he asked.
In another tweet, the PTI chief claimed that the real intent of the authorities behind the entire episode was to “abduct and assassinate” him.
“Clearly arrest claim was mere drama because the real intent is to abduct & assassinate. From tear gas & water cannons, they have now resorted to live firing.
“I signed a surety bond last evening, but the DIG refused to even entertain it. There is no doubt of their mala fide intent,” he said.
Meanwhile, at a late-night meeting summoned by the Punjab interim chief minister to take stock of the security situation in the provincial capital, it was decided to make another bid to detain the PTI chief and wrap up the operation before the morning.
In order to set the plan in motion, fresh units of police and Rangers took positions on The Mall in the early hours of Wednesday. Soon, a few prison vans followed, along with Rescue 1122 vehicles.
As the date shifted to the ominous ides of March, the city was abuzz that the police high-ups have realised the “mistake” of paddling too softly on Tuesday, compromising the entire operation. “The next effort, designed to be strong and brisk, may come any time during the night, but it will come for sure,” one of the Punjab officials said.
Operation at Zaman Park
The operation to ‘execute arrest warrants’ issued by a court in Islamabad started on Tuesday afternoon, when policemen made their way towards the residence of Imran in an armoured personnel carrier.
Led by Islamabad DIG Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari, police used water cannons and teargas to disperse party supporters who resisted. The PTI workers, however, responded with stones.
The police team was determined to complete the operation. DIG Bukhari, who was subsequently injured, expressed in clear terms, “We are here to arrest Imran Khan and it will be done today at all costs.”
In a video message released yesterday, Imran while sensing the inevitability of his arrest released a video message, advising his supporters to continue the struggle for “real freedom” regardless of his “arrest or death”.
Later, in an interview with BBC Urdu released after midnight, Mr Khan referred to the attempts to arrest him – for which he was ready – saying that it seemed the alleged promises made to Nawaz Sharif by the establishment were being kept.
According to the former premier, he did not understand why the establishment and the army chief were “backing the PDM government” even though it was damaging the reputation of the state institution.
He added that the PDM would not last a single day without the crutches of the establishment. The ex-PM said there were no attempts to get in touch with the current top brass of the army, adding that doors for talks were, however, always open.
Protests across the country
The events at Zaman Park did not escape the notice of Imran’s supporters across the country, and several cities saw protests by PTI workers.
In Islamabad, at least four policemen were injured and over two dozen supporters of the former ruling were detained after protests erupted in several parts of the federal capital, resulting in logjams across the city.
On the call of Imran Khan, the supporters converged in multiple cities across Punjab to express solidarity with their party chief. Agitations were reported in Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Mandi Bhauddin, Sialkot, Narowal, and the adjoining districts of Lahore, including Sheikhpura and Kasur.
Similarly, the PTI workers also took to the streets in Sahiwal, Okara, Sargodha, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur, DG Khan, Rawalpindi, and Faisalabad. There were reports of some minor scuffles between the police and the PTI supporters.
A large number of PTI workers and supporters also took to the streets across Sindh, particularly Karachi, to stage demonstrations at more than a dozen key road links and traffic intersections.
Additional reporting from Ahmed Faraz Khan, Haseeb Bhatti and Reuters
Header photo: PTI workers stand outside ex-premier Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV