WASHINGTON: PTI supporters protest outside the Pakistan House, the ambassador’s residence, on Tuesday.—Photo by Anis Shaikh
WASHINGTON: PTI supporters protest outside the Pakistan House, the ambassador’s residence, on Tuesday.—Photo by Anis Shaikh

WASHINGTON/LONDON: As Pakistani Americans took to the streets across the United States on Wednesday to vent their anger at the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan, the US administration acknowledged its awareness of the incarceration but refused to take sides, while Britain said the arrest “is an internal matter” of Pakistan.

In a carefully-worded reaction to Mr Khan’s arrest in Islamabad on Tuesday, the US State Department told Dawn: “We are aware of the arrest of the former Pakistani prime minister” and “as we have said before, the United States does not have a position on one political candidate or party versus another”.

Even while underlining Washington’s support for the democratic process, the department made sure that it was not Pakistan-specific. “We call for the respect of democratic principles and the rule of law around the world,” the department’s spokesperson said.

The Pakistani American community, however, had no reluctance in showing their anger at the arrest, holding protest rallies and meetings in more than a dozen American and Canadian cities.

Thousands take to streets against Imran’s arrest in American, Canadian cities

In Washington, a crowd gathered outside Pakistan House, the official residence of the Pakistani ambassador, chanting slogans against the PDM government and the military.

Organisers claimed that Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik and his team were inside, and the protest forced the embassy to cancel a dinner it was hosting for Mr Malik and his guests.

The embassy, however, refused to confirm or deny their claim but did issue a statement late Tuesday evening, informing journalists that a Wednesday morning media interaction with the minister had been cancelled. The crowd condemned Mr Khan’s arrest, demanded his immediate release, and chanted slogans against senior military commanders.

PTI supporters held a larger rally outside the Pakistan Embassy on Wednesday, chanting similar slogans and demanding Imran Khan’s release. A larger protest was held at Times Square in New York. Mr Khan’s former media adviser Shahbaz Gill addressed the crowd, urging them to “continue your protest for as long as it takes to restore democracy”.

Rallies were also held in Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and at two places in the state of Michigan.

But North America’s largest protest rally of Pakistani Americans in recent memory was held in Toronto, Canada.

Thousands participated in this rally, singing patriotic songs and chanting slogans. More rallies are planned across the United States and Canada.

Internal matter

Responding to a question asked by an MP during PMQs, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The arrest of the former prime minister [Imran Khan] is an internal matter for Pakistan. We support peaceful democratic processes and adherence to the rule of law and we are monitoring the situation carefully.”

He was responding to an MP who called for the British prime minister to respond to the “real concerns” about the circumstances around Mr Khan’s arrest and detention.

PTI supporters gathered outside the Pakistan High Commission in London, as well as outside the apartment of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, demanding justice and condemning the government.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2023

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