Pakistan Police Postpone Arrest of Ex-Pm Imran Khan Until Thursday, Easing Unrest

Courtesy of Hammad Azhar via Twitter/via REUTERS
A police officer throws a stone at demonstrators during a clash in Lahore, Pakistan March 15, 2023 in this still image obtained from a social media video.

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistan court on Wednesday ordered police to halt an operation to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan, bringing an endclasheswith supporters of the former cricketer outside his home in which police fired water cannon and tear gas.

Security forces withdrew from around the house in the eastern city of Lahore, easing political instability in the nuclear-armed nation which is struggling with an economic crisis and awaiting an International Monetary Fund bailout.

The Lahore high court ordered police to postpone the arrest Khan until Thursday, provincial information minister Amir Mir told Reuters.

Earlier, a senior police official said security forces had withdrawn to accommodate cricket’s Pakistan Super League, the country’s top sporting event, which is being held at a stadium a few km (miles) away.

A lower court in Islamabad had issued a warrant against Khan for defying orders to present himself in court over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022.

In a tweet, Khan said he had signed a “surety bond” that would guarantee his appearance in the court by a March 18 deadline. Senior aide Fawad Chaudhry said Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party had asked the court to stop the police action.

According to a list shared by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb last year, the gifts given to Khan include seven watches, including one valued at 85 million rupees (about $300,000).

The list, which Reuters could not independently verify, also contained perfumes, diamond jewelry and dinner sets.

Khan has denied wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said a staff-level agreement with the IMF would come soon. Pakistan is expecting to unlock $1.1 billion from the IMF, which will be critical in helping it avoid defaulting on external debt obligations.

“Pakistan and the IMF do appear to be nearing a deal, but the IMF remain nervous,” said Gareth Leather, a senior economist in the Emerging Asia team at Capital Economics. “Partly this is because of the country’s volatile politics.”

Pakistan’s 2024 dollar-denominated bonds slumped almost 7 cents on the dollar US695847AK91=TE after the clashes.

Political infighting is common in Pakistan, where no prime minister has yet fulfilled a full term and where the military has ruled for nearly half of the country’s history.

Emre Akcakmak, a Dubai-based senior consultant at East Capital, said delays reaching an agreement with the IMF had put more pressure on the country’s finances, “increasing support for Khan himself.”

Legal proceedings against Khan began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has held nationwide protest rallies demanding a snap election, during one of which he was shot and wounded.

Sharif has rejected Khan’s demands, saying the election will be held as scheduled later this year.