Islamabad: As former Prime Minister Imran Khan was released from custody after Supreme Court orders, Pakistani authorities on Thursday cracked down on his supporters, detaining hundreds in overnight raids and sending troops across the country to rein in the wave of violence that followed his arrest earlier this week.
For this nation accustomed to military takeovers, political crises and violence, the turmoil has been unprecedented. It echoed unrest that followed the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Her supporters at the time, outraged by her killing, rampaged for days across Pakistan.
Clashes with police since Khan’s dramatic arrest on Tuesday have left at least 10 of his supporters dead and dozens injured, along with more than 200 policemen injured. Demonstrators burned down a railway station on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday night. On Thursday, they clashed with police in neighborhoods around Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, setting fire to a police car and blocking a train.
Police said Thursday that nearly 1,600 of Khan supporters were arrested overnight around the country on charges of damaging public property and attacking military installations, bringing the total of those detained since Tuesday to 2,300.
The arrests followed mob attacks on government and military buildings, with protesters torching trucks, cars and police vehicles in the streets and blocking highways. In one incident hours after Khan’s arrest, a mob set fire Tuesday to the sprawling residence of a top army commander in Lahore.
Khan was dragged from a courtroom in Islamabad where he showed up to face graft charges on Tuesday. He is now being held at a police compound in Islamabad where, at a temporary court, a judge on Wednesday ordered the 70-year-old opposition leader detained for at least another eight days, raising the prospect of more unrest.
Following the violence, the government shut down schools, colleges and universities in Punjab and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, where Khan has a massive grassroots following and where most of the violence was reported. At least seven of the protester deaths so far have been reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two in Punjab’s capital Lahore, along with one in the southwestern city of Quetta. The government also suspended internet service in various parts of the country.
“We will arrest all those who disrupted law and order,” said Mohson Naqvi, the chief minister in Punjab.
The military vowed on Wednesday to respond to attacks by demonstrators with full force. It said the attacks on its installations were launched in an orchestrated manner, and the violence was a “black chapter” in the country’s history.