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Police fire tear gas shells towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Karachi on May 9, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency arrested former prime minister Imran Khan at Islamabad High Court on Tuesday, threatening fresh turmoil in the nuclear-armed country as clashes erupted between Khan supporters and police, killing at least one protester.

Khan’s arrest comes a day after the military rebuked him for repeatedly accusing a senior military officer of trying to engineer his assassination and the former armed forces chief of being behind his removal from power last year.

Dozens of paramilitary troops in riot-control gear surrounded Khan - Pakistan’s most popular leader according to opinion polls - and led him into a black van by his arm.

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Authorities in three of Pakistan’s four provinces imposed an emergency order banning all gatherings after Khan’s supporters clashed with police, blocked major roads in a string of cities and stormed military buildings in Lahore and Rawalpindi, according to witnesses and videos shared by his party.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos. The military’s public relations wing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The clashes killed one of the protesters and injured 12 people, including six police officers in the southern city of Quetta, provincial home minister Ziaullah Langove said.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Khan was arrested by Pakistan Rangers from  IHC acting on National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) warrant.

The PTI chairman was arrested as part of NAB’s investigation in the Al Qadir Trust case ahead of his appearance before the IHC to seek bail in multiple FIRs registered against him.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters that Khan had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after he did not appear “despite notices”.

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Imran Khan being taken into custody. Image Credit: ANI

He said the charges against Khan were that he and his wife Bushra Bibi had received land worth up to Rs7 billion ($24.70 million) from a land developer that had been charged with money laundering by British authorities.

He added that British authorities had returned 190 million pounds ($240 million) to Pakistan in connection with money laundering, which Khan then returned to the land developer instead of keeping it in the national exchequer.

They are also accused of getting undue benefit in the form of over 458 kanals of land at Mouza Bakrala, Sohawa, to establish Al Qadir University.

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A supporter of Khan throws stones using a slingshot toward police officers during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Lahore. Image Credit: AP

Khan had denied wrongdoing.

The government has no control over the NAB, Sanaullah said. “Khan has done corruption that is clearly documented. This and state-gift selling case are both evidence.”

Khan will be brought before an anti-graft court on Wednesday, GEO TV said.

Khan’s 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.

The NAB 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 graft case is one of more than 100 registered against Khan since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote.

Did he get wind of his arrest?

In most of the cases, Khan faces being barred from holding public office if convicted, with a national election scheduled for November.

It appears Khan got wind of his arrest hours earlier as before leaving for the court the PTI chief said: “If someone has a warrant, they should directly bring it to me. Bring the warrant, my lawyer will be there. I’m ready to go to the jail myself.”

He said: “I am ready to die than live under these duffers, the question is are you ready?”

“My reply to ISPR & attempts by PDM & their handlers to arrest me for two reasons: one to prevent me from campaigning because Insha Allah when elections are announced I will be doing jalsas, two to prevent me from mobilising the masses for street movement in support of Constitution if PDM govt & their handlers refuse to obey the SC & violate Constitution on holding of elections,” said Imran Khan.

Imran Khan doubled down on his allegations against a serving senior military officer, who he has accused on several occasions of hatching a plot to assassinate him.

His biting rejoinder comes a day after the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that “irresponsible and baseless allegations” by Imran against the said military officer without evidence were “extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable”.

During a rally on Saturday, the PTI chairman had once again named a senior intelligence official for orchestrating plans to murder him. “I am on the roads despite verifiable threats to my life. I have already escaped an assassination attempt once. On the second occasion, I was able to sniff out murder planning,” he had said.

Why was Khan ousted?

The 70-year-old has since showed no sign of slowing down, even after being wounded in a November attack on his convoy as he lead a protest march to Islamabad calling for snap general elections.

Khan had for months averted arrest in a number of cases registered against him that include charges of instigating crowds to violence. There were massive protests against previous attempts to arrest him.

Khan was pushed out of the premiership in April last year amid public frustration at high inflation, rising deficits and endemic corruption that he had promised to stamp out.

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PTI activists and supporters of Khan shout slogans as they block a road during a protest in Hyderabad on May 9, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

The Supreme Court overturned his decision to dissolve parliament and defections from his ruling coalition meant he lost the no confidence vote that followed.

That put him among a long list of elected Pakistani prime ministers who have failed to see out their full terms - none has done so since independence in 1947.

Sudden rise to power

His rise to power in 2018 came over two decades after he first launched his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Movement for Justice party, in 1996.

Despite his fame and status as a hero in cricket-mad Pakistan, PTI languished in Pakistan’s political wilderness, not winning a seat other than Khan’s for 17 years.

In 2011, Khan began drawing huge crowds of young Pakistanis disillusioned with endemic corruption, chronic electricity shortages and crises in education and unemployment.

He drew even greater backing in the ensuing years, with educated Pakistani expatriates leaving their jobs to work for his party and pop musicians and actors joining his campaign.

His goal, Khan told supporters in 2018, was to turn Pakistan from a country with a “small group of wealthy and a sea of poor” into an “example for a humane system, a just system, for the world, of what an Islamic welfare state is”.

That year he was victorious, marking a rare ascension by a sporting hero to the pinnacle of politics. Observers cautioned, however, that his biggest enemy was his own rhetoric, having raised supporters’ hopes sky high.

Playboy to reformer

Born in 1952, the son of a civil engineer, Khan grew up with four sisters in an affluent urban Pashtun family in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city.

After a privileged education, he went on to the University of Oxford where he graduated with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

As his cricket career flourished, he developed a playboy reputation in London in the late 1970s.

In 1995, he married Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of business tycoon James Goldsmith. The couple, who had two sons together, divorced in 2004. A second marriage to TV journalist Reham Nayyar Khan also ended in divorce.

His third marriage to Bushra Bibi, a spiritual leader whom Khan had come to know during his visits to a 13th century shrine in Pakistan, reflected his deepening interest in Sufism - a form of Islamic practice that emphasises spiritual closeness to God.

Once in power, Khan embarked on his plan of building a “welfare” state modelled on what he said was an ideal system dating back to the Islamic world some 14 centuries earlier.

But his anti-corruption drive was heavily criticised as a tool for sidelining political opponents - many of whom were imprisoned on charges of graft.