Published: 2023-03-16 10:30
Last Updated: 2024-03-01 16:00
Legions of Imran Khan's angry supporters fought off riot police attempting to arrest the former Pakistan prime minister, but the 70-year-old opposition leader insists he is all about law and order.
"I believe in rule of law," he told AFP in the inner sanctum of his Lahore compound Wednesday, as his party faithful showered pink petals on heaving crowds outside after police ended a near 24-hour siege of his residence.
Police wanted to arrest Khan for skipping court dates to answer allegations he failed to declare gifts he received during his three-and-a-half-year turn in office --or the profits made from selling them.
But they were met by hundreds of his fanatical supporters -- some wielding sticks and throwing stones -- flying the green and crimson flags of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as they waged running battles with officers.
Khan was ousted from office in a no-confidence vote last April, sparking a year of political melodrama in Pakistan even as the nation was wracked by catastrophic monsoon floods and an economic death spiral.
Since then he has faced a slew of charges making their way through the courts -- all intended to keep him from contesting the next election, he says.
National Assembly elections are due no later than October, but Khan is adamant they should be held sooner.
"They want me in jail so that I cannot contest elections," he told AFP, fiddling with turquoise prayer beads after an aide coiffed his hair.
"There were so many cases, they would have just kept me in jail. And the whole idea was to miss the elections.
"This abduction had nothing to do with rule of law," he said.
"It's the law of the jungle."
- Fanatical support -
Inside Khan’s compound, the floor was littered with empty water bottles and piles of rubble.
Some party supporters carried slingshots, others held large sticks, while yet more fought to keep out the throng summoned on Tuesday by PTI to confront the police.
Khan was surrounded by a gaggle of close advisors as he scrolled through social media posts on a mobile phone.
The former cricketing icon still limps from a November shooting, an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor Shehbaz Sharif.
He invokes the danger to his life as one of the reasons he refuses to appear in court -- reasons that seem to shift with each retelling.
"I don't have an issue of going to court because none of the cases on me will stand," he said.
But he also says no case brought against him can be considered legitimate under the current government.
"The reason why this is happening is not because I broke any law," he insists.
Khan seems proud of the fanatical support he draws from his supporters -- and how they held off the police.
"They came with such force... Short of tanks, they had everything," he said.
Outside, those supporters vowed to protect him.
"They can't arrest him," boasted 28-year-old Rana Farhad, meandering between smouldering remains of roadblocks as small fires still flickered on the verge outside Khan's extravagant home.
"The people will not allow it. We will give our lives but we won't let it happen."
"No one can even look at him while we're with him, let alone arrest him," added 19-year-old student Abdullah Abid, a PTI scarf covering his mouth.