Muted protests for ex-PM Khan end week of unrest in Pakistan

·3-min read
Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside his residence in Lahore
Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside his residence in Lahore

A week of tumult in Pakistan ended quietly on Sunday as protests largely failed to materialise for former prime minister Imran Khan, whose arrest and brief detention this week sparked days of deadly unrest.

But more demonstrations could erupt in the coming days, with the opposition leader facing more court cases, pledging to restart campaigning, and an arrest embargo due to expire.

Khan -- a one-time cricket superstar -- was manhandled into custody on graft charges by paramilitary Rangers during a routine appearance at Islamabad High Court on Tuesday.

The arrest brought his supporters onto the streets with government buildings set ablaze, roads blocked and damage to property belonging to the army, which they blame for Khan's downfall.

On Friday, Khan was freed on bail after his detention was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court and claimed he was "treated like a terrorist".

Since being released, the 70-year-old -- still staggeringly popular after being ousted last April -- has vowed to continue campaigning for snap elections on Wednesday.

He also called for nationwide protests to take place on Sunday evening, but they largely failed to materialise in Khan's home city of Lahore, where he travelled after his release.

"I was ashamed to see that no one came out in our neighbourhood, so I came out here to a main road to be seen," 48-year-old Lahore housewife Aisha Asif told AFP.

"We just want the country's betterment."

Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader, has for months waged a campaign of defiance against the military in the countdown to an election due no later than October.

His arrest came just hours after he was rebuked for claiming senior officials were involved in an assassination attempt against him last year.

Pakistan's powerful military has directly ruled the country off and on for nearly half of its 75-year history, and continues to wield power over the political system.

- 'Anti-state behaviour' -

At least nine people died in the unrest this week, police and hospitals have said.

Hundreds of police officers were injured and more than 4,000 people detained, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to authorities.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said "those who demonstrated anti-state behaviour will be arrested and tried in anti-terrorist courts".

Speaking on Sunday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters "this terrorism and mobbing was all pre-planned and this was done by Khan".

Sanaullah has also repeatedly vowed that police will re-arrest Khan, who faces yet more court cases this week with an arrest embargo issued by Islamabad High Court expiring Monday.

"If Pakistan had a Doomsday Clock, it would be reading sixty seconds to midnight," read a Sunday editorial in Dawn, the country's leading English language newspaper.

"There is a very real possibility that we may see the unleashing of total chaos if someone doesn't push the reset button," it said.

Khan won the 2018 election on an anti-corruption campaign, voted in by an electorate weary of decades of dynastic politics.

Independent analysts say he was brought to power with the support of the military, before falling out with the generals.