Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan at Islamabad High Court on Tuesday, in a dramatic move that threatens fresh turmoil in the nuclear-armed country as his party called for nationwide “shut down” protests.
Footage of the arrest showed dozens of security personnel in riot-control gear surrounding Khan and leading him into a black van by his arm.
Dozens of supporters blocked streets in Khan’s hometown of Lahore, where police have been put on high alert. Protesters also blocked a major road in the port city of Karachi, according to Reuters witnesses.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called on supporters to “shut down Pakistan”.
“It’s your time, people of Pakistan. Khan has always stood for you, now its time to stand for him,” the PTI wrote on Twitter.
Khan, 70, a cricket hero-turned-politician, has showed no sign of slowing down since he was ousted as prime minister last year, even after being wounded in a November attack on his convoy as he lead a protest march to Islamabad calling for snap general elections.
His arrest comes at a time when ordinary Pakistanis are reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades, with record high inflation and anaemic growth. It also comes amid a dispute with the military dating to 2021.
An International Monetary Fund bailout package has been delayed for months even though foreign exchange reserves are barely enough to cover a month’s imports.
Previous attempts to arrest Khan from his Lahore home resulted in heavy clashes between his supporters and law enforcement personnel.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said in a Tweet that Khan was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after he did not appear before it “despite notices”.
The NAB had issued Khan’s arrest warrant on May 1, according to an order seen by Reuters. “Khan is accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices,” it said.
The specific corruption allegations Khan were not immediately clear.
Khan’s graft case is one of over 100 registered against him since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote in April last year. He served four of his five-year term.
In most of the cases, Khan faces being barred from holding public office if convicted, with a national election scheduled for November.
Political infighting is common in Pakistan, where no prime minister has yet fulfilled a full term and where the military has ruled for nearly half of the country’s history.
Khan’s arrest comes a day after the military issued a rare public rebuke of the former premier for continuously accusing a senior military official of attempting to assassinate him and its former chief of being behind the move to remove him from power.
Despite the rebuke, Khan hit back on Tuesday morning, repeating his allegations and adding that the same officer, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Major-General Faisal Naseer, was responsible for the murder of a renowned Pakistani journalist in Kenya in October.
The military has denied Khan’s allegations. The former PM’s aide, Fawad Chaudhry, directly accused the military authorities of being behind Khan’s arrest.
The military remains the country’s most powerful institution and has ruled the South Asian nation directly for close to half its 75-year history through three coups. Despite its large influence, it recently said it was no longer interfering.
Khan and the military fell out in 2021 after years of close cooperation. Khan’s opponents and many prominent critics say Khan was helped to power by the military in the 2018 elections. Khan denies this.