Pakistan police threaten crackdown after Khan party calls protests

Pakistan police warned Sunday they would come down hard on illegal gatherings after the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan urged supporters to protest alleged rigging in last week’s election.

Independent candidates most linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party took the most seats in the polls, scuppering the chances of the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to win a ruling majority.

But independents can not form a government, and the country faces weeks of political uncertainty as rival parties negotiate possible coalitions.

PTI leaders claim they would have won even more seats if not for vote rigging.

A nationwide election-day mobile telephone blackout and the slow counting of results led to suspicions the military establishment was influencing the process to ensure success for the PML-N.

“Throughout Pakistan elections were manipulated in a subtle way,” PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan told a press conference Saturday, calling on supporters to “protest peacefully” on Sunday.

Authorities warned they would take strict action, saying so-called Section 144 orders were in place — under a colonial-era law banning gatherings of two or more people.

“Some individuals are inciting illegal gatherings around the Election Commission and other government offices,” said a statement Sunday from Islamabad’s police force.

“Legal action will be taken against unlawful assemblies. It should be noted that soliciting for gatherings is also a crime.”

A similar warning was also issued in Rawalpindi, while AFP correspondents saw dozens of police equipped with riot gear assembling near Liberty Market in Lahore.

Khan’s party defied a months-long crackdown that crippled campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents to emerge as the winners of Thursday’s vote.

Final results were announced Sunday, with independents winning 101 seats, PML-N 75, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 54, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) 17.

Ten minor parties mopped up the remaining 17 seats, with two remaining vacant.

“The results have clearly indicated that no single party possesses a simple majority to establish a government,” said Zahid Hussain, a political analyst and author.

“The political future of the country from this point onward is highly uncertain.”

Still, PTI leaders insist they have been given a “people’s mandate” to form the next government.

“The people have decided in favour of Imran Khan,” chairman Khan told Arab News in an interview.

A coalition between the PML-N and the PPP who formed the last government after ousting Khan with a no-confidence vote in April 2022 still seems the most likely outcome.

The country’s military chief told feuding politicians to show “maturity and unity”.

“The nation needs stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation which does not suit a progressive country of 250 million people,” General Syed Asim Munir said in a statement released Saturday.

The military looms large over Pakistan’s political landscape, with generals having run the country for nearly half its history since partition from India in 1947.

The military-backed PML-N, founded by three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, declared victory as the party with the largest number of seats, but to form a government he will be forced to cut deals with rivals and independents.

Khan was barred from contesting the election after being handed several lengthy prison sentences in the days leading up to the vote.

He was convicted earlier this month of treason, graft and having an un-Islamic marriage in three separate trials — among nearly 200 cases brought against him since being ousted.


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