Imran abruptly calls off Islamabad ‘lockdown’

ISLAMABAD:  Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Tuesday abruptly called off a planned “lockdown” of the capital after the Supreme Court paved the way for an investigation into allegations of corruption against the prime minister’s family.

Premier Nawaz Sharif has been under growing pressure from opposition parties, mainly Imran Khan’s PTI, which had vowed one million supporters would shut down Islamabad on Wednesday as part of long-running efforts to force the government out of power.

Police have repeatedly clashed with protesters in recent days, detaining more than 1,000 PTI supporters from across the country since last week after imposing a ban on all public gatherings in Islamabad — a ban later partly lifted by a court order.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court began hearing a case into the “Panama Papers” leaks and offered to form a commission to investigate revelations that Sharif’s children held offshore bank accounts.

“We are determined to resolve this issue. We will solve it and we will solve it as soon as possible. Now the highest forum in the country in regards to dispute resolution has taken up this matter, so now you hold your positions, please restrain,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of the five judges hearing the case, told the court.

The ruling was applauded by Khan, who held a press conference at his home on the outskirts of Islamabad to declare victory.

“I am so happy that the Supreme Court has decided that from Thursday it will begin probing Nawaz Sharif,” he said, surrounded by ecstatic supporters who danced to pop songs and shouted anti-government slogans.

Khan said his supporters would instead hold a rally thanking the Supreme Court for its decision, as workers began removing barricades around his residence.


The government also welcomed the court’s ruling. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said from day one that he’s ready for complete and transparent accountability,” said minister of state Miftah Ismail, adding he was confident the premier would be exonerated.

Ismail added that calling off the march was a face-saving measure by Khan.

“I think PTI was unable to get sizeable crowd together and felt under pressure to call off their lockdown and save themselves embarrassment. That is why they took this opportunity provided to them by the court and cancel their promised agitation.”

The move brought an anti-climactic end to what observers believed could have become a protracted confrontation, similar to a four-month sit-in led by Khan in 2014.

But although Khan had repeatedly vowed to bring a million protesters to the capital, disruption had been thus far limited to a few areas around the city and to the Peshawar-Islamabad highway, where some 5,000 PTI supporters were blocked from entering the capital. -AFP