Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has called for nationwide “freedom protests” after his arrest and subsequent release last week. “Freedom does not come easily. You have to snatch it. You have to sacrifice for it,” he said in a speech broadcast on YouTube shortly after being released from jail.
Over 100 paramilitary police had earlier grabbed Khan from the high court in Islamabad and held him in custody over a land corruption case. Several other leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were also arrested.
That led to widespread protests across the country and running battles between people and troops sent to assist local police. In Lahore, a crowd set fire to the gates of a general’s home. The government then imposed curfew-type restrictions across Punjab.
The prosperous province was once a political stronghold for incumbent prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and his branch of the Muslim League. But it now swings behind Khan.
As the crisis grew, Pakistan’s supreme court intervened to declare Khan’s arrest illegal and ordered the police to release him. Once free, Khan turned his anger against the powerful establishment.
“Without any doubt, the military is behind my arrest,” he said. “Pakistan is now being run by the army chief. The crackdown on us is by the army chief.”
Generals have regularly overturned elected leaders to run the country for almost half of its existence. Khan is demanding early elections, and that he be allowed to run unhindered.
It’s a popular demand that has galvanised millions of poor and middle class people whose lives are being destroyed by austerity, imperialism and climate change. The PTI insists that only it can stand up against the vested interests in the state.
Khan says he will take on the generals and free Pakistan from dependence on the US and the International Monetary Fund. But his record in office doesn’t back up those claims.
His party was elected in 2018 with the backing of the military. Once in office, Khan quickly turned from talk of an “Islamic welfare state” that could look after everyone.
He embraced the bankers that demanded more sacrifices from the poor. The movement on the street that backs Khan and his call for new elections will demand far more this time around.
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