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Terrorism charges are filed against Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Authorities in Pakistan have filed terrorism charges against a former prime minister.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The prime minister is Imran Khan. He was ousted last spring in a no-confidence vote, and he has refused to accept his defeat. He gave a speech over the weekend criticizing police and a judge, and that is what has triggered the criminal charges.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Hey there, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Exact words would matter here. What did Imran Khan seem to say?

HADID: He had actually threatened to file cases against two senior police officers and a female judge. But in terms of the judge, he also said she should prepare herself, as actions would be taken against her. This coming from a man whose supporters - quite notorious for taking action into their own hands and threatening people online, at the very least. So it could have been interpreted as a threat against this woman.

INSKEEP: OK. So he makes this statement. The police file this thing called a first information report, which is part of the criminal process in Pakistan. He hasn't been arrested yet. But there is a law enforcement activity against a former national leader. How have his supporters taken this news?

HADID: Well, his supporters have rushed to his palatial home in Islamabad. They've formed a human barrier around it. And his lawyers have successfully appealed to the court to prevent his arrest until at least Thursday. I should add that it's not unusual in Pakistan for former prime ministers to have these sorts of actions taken against them once they fall out of favor.

INSKEEP: Certainly there are some former prime ministers who've ended up in prison over the years. But why would the authorities, the current authorities, the coalition government that took over, go after him now if, in fact, that's the way that we should think of this?

HADID: It seems that he is losing the patience of Pakistan's security establishment, which is the country's most powerful institution. If I can step back a bit, you see; he was in power and was widely seen as being propelled to power with the military support, but he was ousted in April when he lost a no-confidence motion. And that was seen as coming around because the military had signaled that it no longer supported him. But Khan, like many civilian leaders in Pakistan, hasn't accepted that result. He's been staging large rallies around the country, where he's been critical of the military for not supporting his party. And that's key because that's pushed him into dangerous political territory here.

And it came around - in mid-August, things really seemed to escalate. Authorities arrested his chief aide, whom they accuse of inciting against the military, calling on soldiers to disobey orders. They've shut down pro-Khan TV stations. And by Saturday, the government seemed to have had enough. Authorities blocked the live transmission of his speech at a rally. And when his supporters said they'd carry it on dozens of YouTube channels live, the government blocked YouTube. And then he was charged.

INSKEEP: It sounds like he still has a lot of supporters around the country.

HADID: He does. And this is bitterly polarizing the country. And one of the things is that Khan has really used these crises to elevate himself even more. He's winning by-elections across the country. And he's repeated these grievances. He's amplified them on social media. And I've spoken to one analyst here who says broad civil unrest is unlikely, even if there's some sporadic clashes in the next few days, but if Imran Khan is arrested, what that will do is elevate his stature even more. It will send this country hurtling into more political crisis.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thanks so much.

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

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.