Overthrown on April 10 by a motion of no confidence, Mr. Khan has since endeavored, with his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Movement for Justice), to put pressure on the fragile coalition in power, by organizing large rallies across the country.
The former star cricketer had called for a “long march” from Wednesday between the northwestern city of Peshawar, capital of PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Islamabad.
He assured that his supporters would not leave the streets until the new government agreed to call legislative elections immediately. The deadline for holding this vote is October 2023.
“No obstacle can stop us. We will break down all the barriers and reach (…) Islamabad,” Khan said from the roof of a truck after taking the lead of the main convoy.
Shortly before, he had landed in his personal helicopter on a highway amidst hundreds of vehicles and walking supporters waving red and green flags of the PTI, near Mardan, about 100 kilometers northwest of Islamabad.
The Pakistani police had from the beginning of the morning locked access to the capital, placed under high surveillance. It also blocked all major roads leading there from the nearest major cities: Peshawar, Lahore, and Multan.
– ‘It’s unprecedented’ –
In Lahore, Faizabad or Attock, the police used tear gas to disperse several hundred demonstrators who were trying to remove the roadblocks, to join the movement.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government said on Tuesday it was determined to prevent an event that would only aim to “divide the nation and spread chaos”.
“No one should be allowed to besiege the capital and dictate its terms,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said.
Yasmin Rashid, a PTI figure, told local media that the windshield of her car was smashed by police as she drove between Lahore and Islamabad.
The Supreme Court was seized to determine if the government had the right to prevent the holding of this march.
“We have seen the capital city blocked in the past, but this is unprecedented, every lane leading to Islamabad is blocked,” testified Allah Ditta, a private school employee who sought to enter the city, where schools had also been closed and hospitals placed on alert.
Sawera Masih, who works in a beauty salon, regretted the disturbances: “If I don’t arrive at the salon, I won’t get my salary,” she lamented.
– Declining economy –
According to the PTI, the police arrested hundreds of its members during searches carried out overnight from Monday to Tuesday.
Police sources in Lahore confirmed to AFP that 200 PTI supporters had been detained in Punjab province for disturbing public order.
Imran Khan was elected in 2018 by denouncing elite corruption symbolized by Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the Bhutto family’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), two long-rival parties that have dominated national political life for decades.
But the dilapidated economy, with growth that has remained flat for three years, high inflation, a weak rupee and a debt that has widened, as well as the deterioration of the security situation, have caused his coalition to split.
Mr. Khan has clung to power, at the risk of further polarizing Pakistani society. Engaged for several months in a rhetorical one-upmanship, he did not hesitate to claim that his fall was the fruit of a “conspiracy” hatched by the United States. The charge was deemed fanciful by Washington.
He finally had to bring himself to see the PML-N and the PPP return to power, this time combined in a coalition government.
He also alienated the all-powerful army, accused of having helped bring him to power in 2018, and which now ostensibly displays its neutrality. However, the latter could be tempted to “defuse the situation if it gets worse”, political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi told AFP.
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