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The arrest of Imran Khan triggered protests across Pakistan


A judge in Pakistan is ordering that the former prime minister, Imran Khan, be held for at least eight days. The ruling comes a day after he was arrested by paramilitary forces, which touched off violent, and sometimes deadly, protests across Pakistan.


He is in the custody of the security forces after a chaotic day in Islamabad. The ousted prime minister is campaigning to get his job back, but he faces many corruption cases. And he was in court on one charge yesterday when paramilitary forces arrested him to face charges in a different case. The arrest of a politician who is seeking office again triggered protests across the country.

MARTIN: NPR international correspondent Diaa Hadid lives in Islamabad and has been following all this and is with us now.

Diaa, hello.


MARTIN: So what's happening today?

HADID: Well, today it's fairly quiet. People are staying home. Schools are closed. Embassies are closed. The streets are clear. But there's a lot of action around a police compound on Islamabad's outskirts, and that's where the former prime minister attended a hastily arranged hearing of an anti-corruption court. He was arrested, as Steve noted, on that court's orders, in a case surrounding money allegedly funneled to a powerful building tycoon. Now, Khan says the case is politically motivated. It's to stop him from running in elections.

MARTIN: So the court case is being held in a police compound. I mean, that seems unusual. Is it? Is that for security, to keep people out?

HADID: It's highly unusual, and it's certainly to keep people out. Police even used shipping containers to block the road leading to the compound. And outside, we met a member of Khan's party, known as PTI. Now, the name of the member we met is Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and we and other members of the press surrounded him.


HADID: Can PTI still go to elections without Imran Khan running?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Imran Khan is ruling the hearts of the people of Pakistan. Imran Khan, whether in jail or out of jail, will haunt them. Imran Khan is unstoppable.

MARTIN: OK. So he's saying Imran Khan will haunt them. Tell me - help us understand what he's saying. Do you think he was caught up in the drama, or is there more to it? I mean, that - this suggests there's something about deeper tensions in Pakistan.

HADID: Right. I mean, certainly politics in Pakistan, like politics in most places, has an element of theater. But I do think there is something deeper going on here. One of Imran Khan's lawyers, Babar Awan, went as far to tell us that he believed the country is under undeclared martial law. And his reference there to the military is important because for many of Khan's followers, this is now a showdown between their leader and the army. That is Pakistan's most powerful institution. It's always been widely revered and feared, but now people say something feels different.

MARTIN: Different how?

HADID: Well, consider what happened yesterday. After Khan's arrest by a paramilitary force known as the Rangers, his followers rioted outside army installations. They set fire to a commander's home. They broke open the gates leading to the country's military headquarters. They were led by a middle-aged woman in a headscarf. No one can recall anything like this happening in Pakistan before, and Khan's followers are largely middle-class, like Ruhi. She's 38. We met outside the police compound, and she tells me she grew up worshipping the army. But now she says their treatment of Imran Khan has turned her against the institution, and now she accuses them of destabilizing the country. She even put her hand to her neck like, we've had it up to here with them.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Diaa Hadid.

Diaa, thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.