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Pakistan's ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan says the country is under undeclared martial law


The very popular former prime minister of Pakistan has been released on bail. His dramatic arrest Tuesday on corruption charges sparked protests across the country, some of them violent. We're joined now by NPR's Diaa Hadid, who's been covering these events from Islamabad, the capital.

Diaa, thanks so much for being with us.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. You're welcome.

SIMON: A very eventful week. Tell us what happened, please.

HADID: Well, let me just step back a bit and say the former prime minister, Imran Khan, was ousted from power last April after the army signaled that it no longer supported his rule. And since then, there's been an escalating crisis and conflict between Khan and the military. And the military's Pakistan's most powerful institution. It's always been revered and feared here. Last week, things took a turn when Khan accused a serving officer of masterminding what he says was an attempt on his life in November. In response, the Army warned Khan to stop making inflammatory allegations, and then he was arrested. The images were dramatic. Dozens of paramilitary forces swarmed the Islamabad high court. They smashed into an office to detain Khan.

SIMON: Are there specific charges?

HADID: Yeah. Ostensibly, this is surrounding a quite serious corruption case that Khan's embroiled in. But he was taken from a courthouse where he was seeking bail in that very case. And so his arrest triggered protests across Pakistan. His supporters smashed and burned down army installations. It was unprecedented in this country. They even burst through the gates of the main army headquarters, and they were led by a middle-aged woman, which suggests how far the mood here has shifted away from the army. So the next day, I met a Khan supporter. Her name is Ruhi, and she told me Pakistanis like her, had always worshipped the army until they began persecuting a man who they see as wanting to develop Pakistan.

RUHI: That is why the anger totally shifted to the forces. We need to get rid of these people so we can actually see the development in Pakistan.

HADID: Need to get rid of these people. This is a sentiment that's rarely openly expressed here.

SIMON: Diaa, what's the military saying now?

HADID: Well, the military accuses Khan of incitement and says he's trying to push the country into civil war for political gain. They say Khan has done what Pakistan's enemies couldn't do in 75 years, and the government agrees. They say he's erratic, and they cite his history of making serious claims without evidence, like when he accused the Biden administration of overthrowing his government.

SIMON: Diaa, given all their resources, does the military have the upper hand now?

HADID: No, not quite. The Supreme Court ruled this week that Khan's arrest was illegal. And then on Friday, another court granted Khan two weeks' bail in that very corruption case he was initially arrested for. I spoke to Khan then, and he even escalated his allegations when I asked him if he believed there was undeclared military rule in Pakistan.

Are you saying it's undeclared martial law?

IMRAN KHAN: Yes. I think it's being run by one man, the army chief.

HADID: And hours later, he was released to a hero's welcome.

SIMON: Well, what happens now?

HADID: There's a temporary reprieve, but in many ways, the fight appears to have escalated between Khan and the army. And in the backdrop, this is a nuclear-armed country. It's being battered by climate change. The economy is unraveling. Soaring food prices are pushing millions to the verge of starvation, mostly women and children. But appears nothing will be really resolved until this conflict is dealt with.

SIMON: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad.

Thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.