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Ex-Pakistan PM Khan's party blames intelligence agencies for violence

By AFP - May 18,2023 - Last updated at May 18,2023

People take part in a rally to show solidarity with Pakistan's army in Peshawar on Wednesday, after military installations were allegedly damaged by supporters of former Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan following his arrest last week (AFP file photo)

ISLAMABAD — Former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party accused intelligence agencies on Tuesday of being responsible for shootings and arson during violent protests that followed his arrest last week.

The former cricket superstar has waged a campaign of defiance against Pakistan's powerful military, which controls the country's intelligence services, since being ousted from power last year.

Khan, 70, is Pakistan's most popular politician and his arrest on corruption charges last week, following months of political crisis, prompted his supporters to pour onto the streets of several cities.

Violent clashes erupted with police, government buildings were set on fire and military installations damaged, with at least nine people killed in the unrest.

Open criticism of the military, which has staged three coups and heavily influences domestic politics and foreign policy, is rare in Pakistan's political mainstream.

"We have ample amount of evidence to present to any inquiry that the arson and in some places, shootings were done by (intelligence) agencies men who wanted to cause mayhem and blame it on PTI so the current crackdown would be justified," the party said in a statement.

"PTI believes that identification of elements involved in this unusual incident of violence and chaos through a credible investigation is inevitable," the statement said.

It did not offer any evidence for the claim.

More than 7,000 people have been detained or arrested since the unrest broke out.

At least 19 senior PTI officials have been arrested, some in overnight raids on their homes, after being accused of instigating the violence.

The PTI statement came a day after top commanders vowed to try those involved in damaging military installations in military courts.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, whose government has vowed to rearrest Khan, said he would open more anti-terrorism courts to try people accused of anti-state behaviour during the protests.

The independent Human Rights Commission Pakistan said it was “deeply concerned by reports of random arrests and cases filed arbitrarily against PTI workers across Pakistan”.

“A distinction must always be made between those resorting to violence and non-violent political workers,” it said in a statement this week.

Khan’s arrest was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court’s chief justice and he was later released and granted protective bail.

He has been tied up in dozens of legal cases since being ousted in April 2022, a frequent hazard for opposition leaders in Pakistan.

Elections are due no later than October and Khan has held a series of huge rallies challenging the authority of the shaky coalition of parties that replaced him.

When Khan surged into office in 2018, many analysts and politicians said it was with the backing of the generals.

Analysts likewise said when he left power it was because he had fallen out of favour with the top brass over foreign policy and other issues.

In opposition, Khan has made explosive claims about the military’s involvement in politics, including that it plotted with the United States to oust him from power and that senior officials planned a November assassination attempt in which he was shot in the leg while campaigning for fresh polls.

He has offered no evidence to support his claims but named a senior intelligence services general and Sharif as being responsible for the attack.

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