Uneasy calm prevails at Zaman Park

Imran urged judiciary, establishment not to become party to ‘London plan’

News Desk/Imran Adnan March 15, 2023


As the anger cooled to a simmer and normalcy returned to Zaman Park after day-long clashes, police and other law enforcers withdrew from around Imran Khan’s Zaman Park home in Lahore on Wednesday, putting a halt to scuffles that had erupted after police tried to arrest the former prime minister for not appearing in court in the Toshakhana case.

Law enforcement personnel were seen leaving the Lahore neighbourhood after clashing with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters as renewed attempts were made earlier today to arrest the party chairman.

Following the withdrawal, PTI supporters were seen celebrating the 'victory' and raising slogans in support of party chief Imran.

On Wednesday morning, Islamabad Police, backed by Punjab Police and Rangers resumed efforts — which began on Tuesday — to arrest the ex-premier in connection with the Toshkhana case. Imran has skipped indictment several times, which led to the judge issuing non-bailable arrest warrant for him.

However, they were met with strong resistance from PTI workers, who threw stones at them. The police responded with volleys of tear gas.

After an hours-long back and forth — described by international media as “pitched battles” — the personnel pulled back to Mall Road, from where they cleared out.

After the law enforcement agencies pulled back, celebrations erupted at Zaman Park, where PTI supporters cheered “chasing the Rangers away”.

Another video posted on PTI’s official Twitter showed Imran Khan, donning a gas mask, addressing party supporters outside his Zaman Park residence.

A senior police official told Reuters that the court-ordered operation to arrest Imran was halted temporarily to accommodate the Pakistan Super League (PSL) match, the country’s top sporting event which is being played at a stadium a few km (miles) away from the PTI chief’s neighbourhood.

Earlier, the PTI alleged that Imran’s Zaman Park residence was “under extreme attack” as it posted footage of armed law enforcement personnel opening fire.

In a tweet from its official account posted at 11:48am today, PTI shared a video alleging “open firing by Rangers and Police”, without specifying when the video was filmed.

In a series of tweets earlier today, Imran said that after a day of facing tear gas, cannons with chemical water, rubber bullets and live bullets, “we now have Rangers taking over and are now in direct confrontation with the people”.

“My question to the establishment, to those who claim they are ‘neutral’: Is this your idea of neutrality, Rangers directly confronting unarmed protestors & leadership of the largest political party when their leader is facing an illegal warrant & case already in court & when govt of crooks trying to abduct & possibly murder him?” he asked.

In a video message released on Tuesday, Imran while sensing the inevitability of his arrest released a video message, advising his supporters to continue the struggle for “real freedom” regardless of his “arrest or death”.

Read ‘Audio leak’: Yasmin seeks Alvi’s intervention to stop Zaman Park standoff

Later, in an interview with BBC Urdu released after midnight, Imran referred to the attempts to arrest him – for which he was ready – saying that it seemed the alleged promises made to Nawaz Sharif by the establishment were being kept.

Imran Khan urged the judiciary and the establishment not to become a party to the ‘London plan’.

Displaying tear gas shells that he claimed had been found around his residence, the PTI chief dismissed all Toshakhana charges against him as “frivolous”. He also maintained that the court where he has been summoned is not “safe”.

Imran maintained that those currently in the government are the same people who were behind the Wazirabad attack during his party’s long march.

“All I had asked for was security,” he said claiming that on his last appearances at the LHC and the IHC, “there was no security and no protection” whatsoever.

“It is unprecedented that an ex-prime minister faces a murderous attack and after that, he is refused security and it is this [security] that we are requesting for in court and that judge, in turn, issued warrants against me,” Imran said.

The ousted premier maintained that the “warrants simply said that the police should ensure my appearance in court”, and added that the LHCBA president is willing to ensure the same surety bond.

The PTI chief also said that his “bag was packed” and told his supporters that he was ready to go, but “all our workers knew that they have suffered custodial torture […] and out of that fear they have been fighting outside since last night”.

“I ask what need was there to send the rangers? They were climbing the wall of my house and were about to enter. What crime did I commit that the rangers were sent to attack me here?” he questioned.

“And when the rangers and our people will come face to face against each other, will anyone then believe that our establishment is neutral? And should we ever pit the armed forces and civilians against each other?”

“When the TLP was marching towards Islamabad, the army chief had told at that time that ‘we will never bring the military to oppose civilians’, then why is he doing this now?” Imran said.

“Since my ouster, I have tried my best that I might not be the cause of any violence in this country,” he said, maintaining that the PTI had always remained peaceful and whenever the possibility of any untoward event emerged, the event was cancelled in the interest of the country.

Imran implored “the powerful quarters that control the country” – which he clarified were not a part of the government – that if they “care about Pakistan”, they should introspect “where the country is going”.

“What will happen if I am sent to jail? Life and death are up to Allah as is one’s dignity, what will happen? The party will only become stronger, he said but warned that the repercussions for the country would be adverse.

“I have no control over the crowd outside,” the PTI chief said as he warned that if the "attacks' continue “the matter will get out of everyone’s hands”.

“All our hopes cling on to the judiciary and the establishment,” he said as he urged them not to become a party to the ‘London plan’.

Normalcy returns

Lahore police aided by the cops from adjoining districts and Rangers had cordoned off almost all the main roads including Canal Road, Mall Road and Sundardas Road, leading to Zaman Park. After the Lahore High Court issued orders to refrain from the arrest till the next morning at 10am, the roads were cleared by police by removing hurdles.

Read more Fazl accuses Imran of using workers as 'shield' to evade arrest

The number of deployed policemen was also slashed visibly. “Canal Road from Mall Bridge to Dharampura has been cleared. The citizen can travel without any hesitation”, shared City Traffic Police Lahore.

Police officers from nearby districts; Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, and heavy contingents of rangers were gathered to proceed to Zaman Park in the early morning. The deployment that had served the previous day and during the night was replaced. Senior police officers including CCPO Lahore Bilal Siddique Kamyana, DIG Operations Lahore Afzal Kausar and RPO Gujranwala Dr Haider Ashraf themselves physically were present on the spot to lead the operation.

The fresh contingents equipped with anti-riot gear, wearing gas masks and helmets, deeming PTI activists by now must be drenched of energy and tired resorting to heavy tear gas shelling, and use of water cannons started moving towards Imran Khan's Zaman Park residence.

The PTI workers however offered resistance by pelting stones and attacking with sticks, which they made by from tree branches. When they failed to stop police, reportedly they resorted to using petrol bombs.

An attack by 'petrol bomb' at the gate of Imran Khan's residence from a person inside the gate was also captured on video. The attacker hurled the bomb at Rangers officials who were trying to make into the house premises while taking cover of an armoured vehicle.

The PTI workers reportedly also set ablaze a traffic wardens post at Mall Road and the WASA disposal station. As a result, multiple bikes and government infrastructure worth millions of rupees were burnt to ashes.

A group of lawyers from Lahore High Court also held a rally on Mall Road to reach Zaman Park. A few incidents of torture by police with lawyers were also reported. The clashes left dozens of PTI workers and over 64 cops injured.

A senior journalist while talking to The Express Tribune shared that the police resorted to an unprecedented level of use of tear gas shelling. During the last two decades, he never observed such a level of shelling at the protesters.

The impact of tear gas shelling (pungent smell and irritation in eyes) was felt in a radius of one kilometre.

Even the residents residing at least one kilometre away from Zaman Park were finding it hard to breathe.

PTI through social media had shared a few footages of ‘resorting to straight firing’ by paramilitary squads.

The Punjab government’s spokesperson denied the news as fake and said that no police officer or official had gone to Zaman Park with weapons.

Legions of Imran Khan's angry supporters fought off riot police attempting to arrest the former 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 nearly 24-hour siege of his residence.

"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.

Read Imran asks supporters to 'carry on struggle' even if killed or arrested

"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.

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 advisers as he scrolled through social media posts on a mobile phone.

"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 that I broke any law," he insists.

Imran 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.

Imran later tweeted pictures of bullet casings purportedly collected from the scene, but a Punjab government official denied live rounds were fired.

(With Inputs from AFP)





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