By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has formed a committee to lead his party if he is arrested, he told Reuters hours before an appearance before a court that had issued arrest warrants against him.
The former cricket legend has led nationwide protests and registered a spate of cases against him after his fall from power last year. Police tried unsuccessfully to arrest him on Tuesday, leading to heated arguments with his party officials.
“I’ve formed a committee that will of course make decisions at some point – if – I’m inside,” the 70-year-old said in an interview at his home in Lahore before leaving for Islamabad early Saturday. He said there were 94 cases against him.
Khan, who was shot and wounded during the election campaign in November, says the threat to his life is greater than before and claimed – without providing evidence – that his political opponents and the military wanted to prevent him from running in elections later this year .
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has denied being behind the cases. The military – which plays an outsized role in Pakistan, having ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history – has said it remains neutral on politics.
Khan said there was no reason why he should be arrested now because he had bail on all his cases. If convicted, Khan could be barred from running in the elections scheduled for November.
“The establishment feels kind of threatened by me right now. And that’s the problem,” he said.
Police attempts to arrest Khan led to clashes that left dozens injured.
“My life is even more threatened than it was then,” he said, adding he was concerned about the reaction to his arrest or attempted assassination. “I have a feeling there would be a very strong reaction and there would be a reaction across Pakistan.”
The former prime minister has garnered broad support among Pakistanis amid decades of high inflation and a crippling economic slowdown as the country implements painful tax reforms to stave off a default. Thousands have rallied behind him every time he has called for demonstrations.
“I just think those trying to do this just can’t understand the situation. Unfortunately, I don’t think the mind that’s thinking of either killing me or putting me in jail understands where Pakistan is right now.”
Khan said the military played a role in ousting him from power after deteriorating relations with former army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retired in November. He said the new chief, General Asim Munir, was following the same policy.
The military has previously denied its claims.
“Throughout our 70-75 year history (the military) has played a role. But that role now needs to be balanced. You have to have that balance now because that previous balance isn’t working anymore,” he said.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Lahore; Editing by William Mallard)