Pakistani police arrest prominent Imran Khan supporter

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police arrested Monday a retired army general and prominent supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on charges of inciting the public and government employees against national institutions, officials said.

The charge against retired Gen. Amjad Shoaib, which carries a seven-year sentence, came after he appeared on Pakistani BOL news channel on Saturday criticizing authorities for keeping Khan’s supporters jailed, especially in remote areas of the country.

They were arrested amid Khan’s latest campaign dubbed “fill the jail cells” with detainees — or “jail bharo” in Urdu — as a way to pressure the government into holding early elections.

Last Wednesday in the former premier's hometown of Lahore and some other urban areas, Khan’s supporters protested, hopped into police vans and posed for cameras, taunting police to arrest them en masse and defying a ban on rallies.

Police mostly stayed back but at least 200 Khan supporters were arrested in different places in eastern Punjab province and elsewhere, as Khan's supporters had aimed for.

In his TV appearance, Shoaib allegedly urged civil servants to refuse to do their duties. The charge against him claims Shoaib's remarks were part of a “planned conspiracy" to weaken the country. Shoaib does not hold any office in Khan’s party.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party, condemned the arrest of the 80-year-old Shoaib, saying such actions would “bring nothing but more hatred and anxiety."

Shahbaz Sharif replaced Khan as prime minister after the former cricket star turned Islamist politician was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April 2022.

Since then, Khan — who has claimed his ouster was a conspiracy backed by the U.S. — has been seeking early elections. Washington and Sharif have denied Khan's claims and Sharif has rejected calls for early elections, saying the vote would be held as planned later this year.

Sharif's government has struggled with lingering political instability but also a surge in militant attacks and violence over the past months across the country.

On Monday, suspected militants killed four workers and wounded three others at a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, according to police official Syed Akbar. No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Harnai, a district in restive Baluchistan province that is home to most of the region's coal mines.

Separately, a shootout left two soldiers and two militants dead following a raid in North Waziristan, a district in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the military said. Waziristan was a base for the Pakistani Taliban until the army claimed to have cleared the region of insurgents. However, attacks have continued, raising concerns the Pakistani Taliban are regrouping there.


Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar contributed to this story from Quetta, Pakistan.