‘Ready to go to jail’
In a video message released in the afternoon, Imran Khan while sensing the inevitability of his arrest advised his supporters to continue the struggle for “real freedom” regardless of his “arrest or death”.
اپنی قوم کو میرا پیغام ہے کہ پوری ہمت و استقامت سے کھڑی ہو اور حقیقی آزادی و قانون کی حکمرانی کیلئے میدانِ عمل میں ڈٹ جائے! pic.twitter.com/ln4hLFu8Sp
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 14, 2023
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.
“We saw on the news that the police were coming to arrest me,” the PTI chief said, but noted that he was all but prepared for his arrest. “I am all mentally prepared that I am going to spend my night in a cell and I don’t know how many nights. I am all prepared for that. But I think they are determined [this time] and they want me behind bars,” he said.
“I had taken protective bail till March 18 and there is no point as to why they came to arrest me on March 14,” he said in response to a question about him not following the law of the land.
Mr Khan said he was prepared to go to jail and for the day-to-day operations of the PTI, he had formed a committee of party leaders.
The call issued by Imran Khan apparently gave new vigour to his supporters since more and more activists thronged Zaman Park, where the party chairman was holed up in his house.
The local leadership, which was criticised on social media for its failure to mobilise workers, also rose up to the task and moved its workers who quickly outnumbered the police.
As the faceoff with the police continued both sides continued to resort to violent means to break the impasse. But it seems, for now, the PTI has pushed the police back.
The stick-wielding and stone-pelting workers added another weapon to their arsenal at nightfall – petrol bombs. These bombs set police vehicles alight, particularly the primary weapon i.e. water cannons.
As both sides stuck to their guns and the day started wearing out, police also expanded the scope of the operation and called the Rangers for help and added a helicopter for air surveillance. It also switched off the internet facility and electricity around Zaman Park littered with teargas shells and remains of burnt tyres. By the time this report went to press, the police were on the move for another push.
As this crisis continued to unfold, former US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that the attempts to detain Imran Khan would only “deepen” Pakistan’s political crisis as he called for some “serious soul-searching”.
On Tuesday, Sharif told Pakistan’s Geo television that Khan’s arrest was ordered by a court, and it was not political victimization.
Protests across the country
The events in Zaman Park did not escape the notice of Mr Khan’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.
Though the protests remained largely peaceful and only caused traffic jams across Karachi, sporadic incidents of violence were reported where the police used teargas and baton-charge to arrest the PTI workers.