LAHORE: A team of the Islamabad police has surrounded Zaman Park along with a heavy contingent of the Lahore police to arrestPakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, whose arrest warrant is out in the Toshakhana case against him.
Intermittent firings of tear gas are being carried outby the law enforcers in and outside Zaman Park, including in the compound of Khan's residence, according to reports.
As the arrest threat looms large, the former prime minister — in his video message from his Zaman Park residence — urged his party workers and supporters to keep fighting for the "rule of law".
"If I'm arrested or killed, fight for Haqeeqi Azadi [true freedom movement] must continue," said Khan who was removed as the premier via a no-confidence motion in April last year.
In response, PTI workers have staged protests across major cities — including Karachi, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Vehari, Peshawar, Quetta, and Mianwali — resulting in injuries to police personnel and PTI workers as well.
A team of Islamabad police has been in Lahore since yesterday to comply with the court orders to arrest the PTI chairman — who faces a number of cases in different cities.
The police, although observing restraint, are using water canons to disperse the party's workers as they move ahead in their quest to arrest Khan, and they are around 90 metres away from his residence.
The law enforcers are in Zaman Park in line with court orders as on Monday, a district and sessions court in Islamabad restored the former prime minister's non-bailable arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case.
Last week, the IHC suspended the non-bailable arrest warrant for Khan issued by the local court issued due to the PTI chief's continuous absence and directed him to appear before the lower court on March 13 — and he failed to comply with the orders yet again.
This is the second time in less than 10 days that the police have arrived at Zaman Park to apprehend the deposed prime minister.
As the party's workers resorted to stone-pelting and threw petrol bombs at law enforcers, more than 20 policemen — including DIG Operations Islamabad Shahzad Bukhari — sustained injuries. Meanwhile, the law enforcers have also arrested the PTI workers.
In conversation with BBC, the former prime minister said that the police came "all of a sudden" to arrest him without informing him.
"We saw on the news that the police were coming to arrest me," the PTI chief said, but noted that he was all but prepared for his arrest.
"I am all mentally prepared that I am going to spend my night in a cell and I don't know how many nights. I am all prepared for that. But I think they are determined [this time] and they want me behind bars," he said.
"I had taken protective bail till March 18 and there is no point as to why they came to arrest me on March 14," he said in response to a question about him not following the law of the land.
Taking exception to the developments, President Arif Alvi said he was "deeply saddened by today's events".
"Unhealthy revenge politics," he termed the police's deployment to arrest Khan.
"Poor priorities of [government] of a country that should focus on economic misery of the people," he said, slamming the Shehbaz Sharif-led administration in the centre.
"Are we destroying political landscape? Am concerned about safety & dignity of ImranKhanPTI like that of all politicians."
Amid the clashes between the PTI’s workers and the police, the party’s Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the leadership is ready to find out a “possible way out” to avert bloodshed.
Qureshi, while addressing a press conference at Zaman Park, asked the police to not "worsen the situation" and talk to the party's leadership.
"Show me the warrant. I will first read and understand it. Then, I will speak to Imran Khan and my lawyers," the senior PTI leader told the police.
Terming the police action as a reaction to yesterday’s rally and unreasonable, the PTI leader claimed that“Khan is under a protective bail granted by the court and “If a person is under a protective bail he cannot be arrested".
The PTI leader also asked the authorities if they wanted to postpone the upcoming elections.
Commenting on the police action, he went on to say that the law enforcers arrived at Zaman Park with a programme for "bloodshed".
Extending a dialogue offer to the authorities, the PTI leader said that “talk to us maybe we will voluntarily surrender".
He said that the police raided the Khan's house, adding that the authorities are bent on harming him.
Meanwhile, PTI leader Farrukh Habib said that he is going to talk to the police, terming the move "dangerous" for Khan.
He said that they will inform the police that these warrants are being challenged in court.
"I don't think that police need to take any extreme step. We don't want to put Imran Khan in any situation where his life is in danger."
Habib mentioned that arrest warrants were suspended by the court in the judge-threatening case and the warrants for which the police are here, will also be suspended.
DIG Operations Islamabad Shahzad Bukhari is leading the police party that has surrounded Khan’s residence in the city’s posh area.
While talking to the media, the police official said: “We have come to comply with the warrant. We know the details of the case but cannot discuss”.
“Where will you take Imran Khan after arresting him?” a journalist asked the official.
To this, DIG Bukhari said: "Let us first arrest him and then we will inform the media".
The Islamabad police, in a tweet, also said legal action would be taken against those who were obstructing the implementation of the court orders regarding the PTI chief's arrest.
The Islamabad High Court's registrar's office raised an objection to Khan’s plea seeking the cancellation of the arrest warrant for Khan in the Toshakhana case.
Earlier today, Khan’s counsel filed the plea at the IHC and requested its office to fix the matter before a bench for a hearing today.
The IHC registrar's office, however, raised the objection that the deposed prime minister did not conduct biometric verification.
Commenting on the police action, PML-N Senior Vice-President Maryam Nawaz said that the nation's sons were performing their duty.
Referring to the ongoing clashes between the PTI workers and the security personnel, Maryam said that Khan would be responsible if any one of the police officers is injured.
Later, addressing the PML-N workers’ convention in Sheikhupura, Maryam taunted Khan for “hiding inside his house” to avoid arrest. She also criticised the PTI leader for allegedly doing politics over the death of Zille Shah — the PTI worker who was killed earlier this week.
Referring to the clashes, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, in a statement, said that the “game” is being played in Lahore today for the sake of a person’s “ego”.
In a press conference, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Interior and Legal Affairs Attaullah Tarar called the PTI chief to stop hiding at his house, man up, and get himself arrested.
"Imran Khan has made his workers his shields and refuses to come out of his bunker," Tarar said, ruling out the involvement of the federal cabinet in the PTI chief's arrest.
"The state isn't helpless. Precautions should always be taken. Everything is being done in line with the law," the special assistant said, calling the PTI chief "the most cowardly person".
This is a developing story and is being updated with more details.