(Bloomberg) — A Pakistan court has suspended any further police action against former Prime Minister Imran Khan until Friday, after two days of violent clashes outside his home prevented security officials from arresting him.
The former cricket star is facing multiple court cases, which he says are politically motivated and designed to keep him out of elections later this year.
“The judge said clearly that the warrant isn’t in his jurisdiction so he isn’t giving any ruling on it,” Khan’s lawyer Rana Mudassar Rana said by phone. “But since the operation to arrest Khan is in Punjab so he’s directing to hold it.”
An initial suspension of the police operation to arrest Khan was due to be lifted at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The halt had been called after security forces and Khan’s supporters fought pitched battles around his home in the city of Lahore. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds loyal to Khan, who had formed a shield around his house and been camping out to block his arrest.
The drawn out street battles and legal tussles to bring Khan to court have threatened to overshadow the country’s economic crisis, as it teeters on the brink of default. Pakistan’s dollar bonds due 2024 were indicated inching 0.1 cents higher to 42.1 cents on the dollar, after tumbling by the most since September on Wednesday
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has denied that the court cases are related to elections, saying his focus is on securing loans from the International Monetary Fund to help Pakistan avoid a default. He dismissed any suggestion the political uncertainty is causing delays in reviving the bailout program, when speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
“We have accepted all the conditions – very tough conditions set by the IMF,” Sharif said when asked about the delay in the deal. “I hope the staff level agreement will be signed very soon and it will be sent to the IMF board.”
Sharif has rejected Khan’s demands to hold snap polls and has said elections will be held from September and October onwards as he wants to focus on the economy first. Khan has said the court cases filed against him are a move to silence him and break his popularity.
The latest arrest warrant, issued last week, is in relation to allegations that Khan failed to disclose funds obtained from the sale of state gifts when he was in power. Khan has denied wrongdoing.
Despite the dozens of court cases leveled against Khan, he remains the most popular politician in Pakistan, according to an opinion survey published last week. His rallies draw tens of thousands of people at any one time, but Khan has said he faces threats to his life and the court cases expose him further.
Khan has been largely confined to his home in Lahore since he was shot and wounded in the leg during a rally in November. He has asked that all the court hearings be carried out in a high-security judicial complex in Islamabad.
Prime Minister Sharif has become deeply unpopular among voters, who blame his coalition for the nation’s economic crisis. The Pakistani rupee has plummeted to new lows and inflation is hovering at a record high.
His government has been forced to raise energy prices and taxes as it races to meet conditions to revive a loan with the IMF. They need to avoid a default that can make borrowing costs higher and cut off market access to credit.
—With assistance from Ismail Dilawar and Khalid Qayum.
(Updates with more details)