Islamabad – This week, the major cities of Pakistan were paralyzed violent protests and riots caused by Art the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the national cricket legend turned leader of the political opposition, on corruption charges. Khan remains hugely popular in the country of 230 million despite being forced out of office last year in a no-confidence vote in Pakistan’s parliament, and his arrest has angered his supporters.
The streets were quieter on Thursday after two days of violence that left at least eight people dead. But the nuclear-armed Asian nation remained on guard after most of the leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party were taken into custody. The country’s powerful army and the current prime minister, who is backed by the military, warned protesters on Wednesday that any further unrest would be dealt with harshly.
Here’s what you need to know about the chaos, how Pakistan got here, and what could be next:
Who is Imran Khan?
Imran Khan, 70, was Pakistan’s prime minister for four years before his ouster in November 2022. He remains the leader of the main opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which means Justice Movement in English. .
Khan founded the party after completing a brilliant career as the captain of the Pakistan national cricket team. He led the team to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, cementing his status as a national hero.
Disillusioned with the widespread corruption in Pakistani politics, he left the world of sports to form his own political party in 1998. Ten years later, he was finally elected prime minister in 2018 with the support of the country’s all-powerful military. But he has since fallen spectacularly out of favor with army leaders and was ousted by parliament last year.
Why was Imran Khan arrested?
Ironically, Khan, who has been an ardent fighter against corruption and graft, is now facing a number of graft and corruption cases.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters that Khan was arrested this week on the orders of the country’s top anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He said Khan and his wife Bushra are suspected of obtaining land worth about $24.7 million from a developer accused by British authorities of money laundering.
Sanaullah said British authorities had returned $240 million to Pakistan in connection with the case, and that Khan was accused of returning the money to a land developer instead of keeping it in the national treasury when he was prime minister.
Khan vehemently denies any wrongdoing and insists that all the allegations against him – which include more than 100 separate cases brought against him since he was ousted from power in 2022 – are a ruse to keep him out of the election. planned for November this year.
Khan is the seventh prime minister of Pakistan in the country’s history to be arrested on corruption charges.
Khan was taken to the Supreme Court of Pakistan
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday heard a petition by Khan’s lawyer, who demanded the politician’s release and called his arrest on Tuesday illegal. The court expressed displeasure with the way Khan was taken into custody in another courtroom earlier in the week and ordered authorities to produce him before a high court within an hour.
Amid speculation that the Supreme Court may order his release, National Information Minister Marium Aurangzeb told reporters in Islamabad that it would be “unfair” for the top court to intervene in this way. Aurangzeb pointed to the violence incited by Khan’s supporters this week and said the release order would be tantamount to a “license to kill everyone”.
What happens next and why is it important?
The standoff between Khan’s supporters and the ruling coalition government is likely to escalate again ahead of his next trial on May 17, when his detention will be reviewed. If the judge decides to release Khan, he and the PTI may be emboldened, and he is likely to return to his home in the city of Lahore, where his supporters could more effectively try to protect him from further arrest.
If the political turmoil surrounding Khan continues, it could derail national elections scheduled for November.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for most of its 75-year history, and most observers believe that army generals still pull the strings of the civilian government. Many Pakistanis fear that the army could topple the civilian government and impose martial law if the unrest continues and military installations come under attack again.
The country is poor mired in a deep and deepening economic crisis, meanwhile, with food inflation running above 36%. Many experts believe that the government is on the verge of defaulting on international payments, which could trigger a complete economic collapse. The Pakistani rupee hit an all-time low against the US dollar on Wednesday and continued its sharp slide as interbank markets opened on Thursday.
The instability caused by Khan’s arrest has heightened the sense of impending disaster in the country, and the immediate question is how the military will respond to any new outbreak of protests.
If the generals take a hard-line approach to the unprecedented challenge to their power, it could lead to wider internal conflict and a crisis of stability in the nuclear-armed country. strained relations with nuclear-armed neighbor India will be a cause for concern worldwide.
CBS News’ Tucker Reals contributed to this report.