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As Pakistan authorities tried to arrest ex-Prime Minister Khan, clashes erupt


In Pakistan, police have been told to stand down after nearly 24 hours of confrontations as they tried to arrest the former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Police clashed with Khan's supporters, who had formed a human shield around his home in the suburb of Lahore. This political crisis comes as Pakistan is on the brink of economic default. NPR's Diaa Hadid is on the line from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Hi, Diaa.


PFEIFFER: Where do things stand now?

HADID: The high court in Lahore basically ordered the police to hold off on arresting Imran Khan until tomorrow. And that came after pretty dramatic cat-and-mouse clashes between security forces and Khan's supporters. His supporters hurled rocks, beat officers with sticks and even lobbed a firebomb at the police at one point, and they were lobbing tear gas canisters to repel them. Supporters shared this clip of the clashes. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: And while this was going on, Khan went onto Twitter to say this.


IMRAN KHAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He's saying, if something happens or if I'm jailed or they kill me, it's up to you to carry on fighting.

PFEIFFER: Diaa, why did this happen?

HADID: Ostensibly, this is to arrest Khan because he hasn't turned up to court in one of 80 - eight, zero - cases that he's enmeshed in. But Khan's supporters say the real reason is to try curb his influence before elections. And they're expected this fall.

PFEIFFER: You know from covering Pakistan that this country is sadly used to political crisis. Is this situation being considered more of the same? Or is it different?

HADID: It's really worrying analysts here. And they say they haven't actually seen a situation like this in years, where supporters are risking their own lives to protect their leader. As these clashes are going on, there's also been pop-up protests in other cities around Pakistan. And this attempt to arrest him, his supporters say it's going to make him even more popular. Have a listen here to Abdullah Riar. He's an aide to Imran Khan.

ABDULLAH RIAR: Imran Khan symbolizes a yearning of this nation to have an accountable political process. Mr. Khan has made very clear that military has no role in the politics of Pakistan.

HADID: OK. That last thing that Riar said, that the military has no role in Pakistani politics, that's important because Khan and his supporters say his ouster in April was orchestrated by the army.

PFEIFFER: Does the military have that kind of power in Pakistan?

HADID: Analysts say it does. The military is Pakistan's most powerful institution. And they're widely seen as being behind this campaign to clip Khan's political wings. And that's been going on for months now. But the thing is, Khan's been fighting back. And his supporters have unleashed a jaw-dropping amount of vitriol against the army. And this is an institution that used to be spoken about in hushed tones because it was so feared. So have a listen here to columnist Arifa Noor, who spoke about this.

ARIFA NOOR: You see a lot of people questioning the role of the military. This should be of concern to the military itself because, you see, legitimacy at the end of the day is about perception.

HADID: But there's also a more immediate issue. Pakistan is on the brink of default. The IMF has so far refused to release a tranche of a bailout worth about $1 billion. And that's partly because of this political crisis. And now in Pakistan, millions of people are close to starving. Thousands are losing their jobs. And the coming days and weeks are looking dire because neither side - not the army, not the government, nor Khan - is showing any signs of compromise.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thank you.

HADID: Thank you, Sacha.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND TIM SCHAUFERT'S "TIDES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.