Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan throw stones toward police during a protest against the arrest of Khan, in Karachi, Pakistan, May 9, 2023.

A shaky political situation in Pakistan could get worse with arrest of former PM Imran Khan

Paramilitary troops arrested former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during a court appearance on Tuesday, sparking protests and complicating an already-fragile political situation in the country.

The World

A dramatic and chaotic scene unfolded in Pakistan on Tuesday. Paramilitary troops in riot gear broke into the compound of a judicial court in the capital, Islamabad. Inside, former Prime Minister and cricket star Imran Khan was facing corruption allegations. Troops arrested and dragged him from the courtroom, then led him by the arm to a black bus and drove away.

The drama has raised serious concerns that an already shaky political situation in Pakistan has just gotten a lot worse. The arrest prompted thousands of his supporters to storm the official residence of the top regional commander in Lahore.

Khan remains the country’s leading opposition figure after being ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.

To discuss the latest developments, The World's host Marco Werman spoke to Fahd Humayun, who is from Pakistan and teaches South Asian politics at Tufts University.

Marco Werman: Who is Imran Khan and, for Pakistanis, what does he stand for?
Fahd Humayun: In Pakistan, he's a big hero because he was a cricketing star turned philanthropist, turned leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which, since the 1990s, has been a feature of Pakistan's political landscape, but didn't really become a real contender, electorally speaking, until around 2013, when Imran Khan's call, which is for the youth of Pakistan to support his anti-corruption drive, really began to resonate with large swaths of the population.
So, today's arrest sounded pretty dramatic and it's also pretty confusing. Khan was already in court, but then was arrested and dragged out. What exactly happened?
Imran Khan is currently facing a number of corruption charges, and it was on the basis of some of those charges that he had appeared in Islamabad's high court. Now, the Interior Ministry in Pakistan alleges that the decision to arrest Imran Khan was undertaken on the basis of his having failed to appear before the court on previous requests. It's because many of Imran Khan's supporters believe this to be a ruse and also agree with Imran Khan that these charges are politically motivated, and have just poured onto the streets in the aftermath. The arrest itself comes on the heels of a growing confrontation that has been taking place between Imran Khan and the Pakistan military, leveling charges against each other, which sort of explains the timing of this particular contingency.
There is more backstory to this, and maybe you were getting into it there. Imran Khan says a senior Pakistani military official has been behind attempts to kill him. What's that about?
That's right. So, Imran Khan was removed from power in 2022 through a vote of no confidence. It was a democratic proceeding, but many observers feel that one of the reasons why this came to pass was because the Pakistan military, which had initially supported Imran Khan, stopped supporting him while he was in power. As a result, since he has left power, Imran Khan has sort of taken the military on in his public appearances, in street rallies. In one of those, there was an assassination attempt on Imran Khan in which he was shot at, and he alleged afterwards that the plotters for that attack included senior officials within the Pakistan military.
So, just to cut through the confusion, are you saying that the status quo in power in Pakistan does not want to see Imran Khan tap into that massive support, so they've been taking any opportunity to sideline him? Is this just all a power play against Imran Khan?
In some ways it is. Behind all of this, there is a constitutional requirement that Pakistan now has elections, because this is supposed to be an election year. The ruling coalition in Pakistan has been delaying those elections, because many observers feel the ruling coalition would lose power given the extent of its unpopularity. So overall, it's quite a sobering situation.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.

Related: Hazara community demands justice for slain coal miners in Pakistan

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