The Pakistani government has gone to the extent of unleashing the nuclear-armed country’s military in an effort to curb violent protests currently engulfing the country. Authorities also arrested leaders of former PM Imran Khan’s party.
The violent protests flared up after the former prime minister was arrested in court and taken to jail. By Thursday, three senior party leaders were detained by authorities. One was arrested outside the Supreme Court late on Wednesday and another, a foreign minister in Khan’s cabinet, early on Thursday.
“The country has been in turmoil since Prime Minister Khan was arrested,” said Arshad Yusufzai, a Pakistan-based journalist, in an interview on Salaamedia.
Mobile services, schools and offices remained closed in at least two of the country’s four provinces as the army and police rolled through the streets in major cities, including Islamabad.
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The violence this week claimed five lives and prompted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to address the nation of 220 million on Wednesday.
“Such a spectacle has never been witnessed in the last 75 years,” he said. “People were made hostages in their vehicles, patients were taken out of the ambulances and later, those vehicles were torched”.
Yusufzai said Khan’s supporters had long vowed to confront whoever arrested their former leader who was sacked last year. He added that party leadership had encouraged mass demonstrations but failed to prevent violence.
“The followers have been saying that whoever touches him would be in direct collision with them. That is what we are witnessing now. Since he was taken, his party leadership has been telling his protestors and party workers to have peaceful demonstrations across the country.”
“There are demonstrations but there is no peace. It seems the followers have forgotten that part. They are angry not just at the government, but to their belief it is the doing of the military.”
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Vowing to defend Khan, accused of corruption, protestors were trying to pressurise the government into releasing him. Yusufzai said some believed the arrest was meant to intimidate him ahead of an upcoming election.
“Many of the experts believe that these are politically motivated [and] it is a victimisation tactic. Others say it has really happened and Khan should have gone to face the charges but he did not.”