BBC News, Islamabad
“I am prepared to give my life for Pakistan and for my leader,” said 22-year-old Abdullah Farid, speaking outside former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s home in Islamabad.
Farid – who said he had been an Imran Khan supporter since 2011 – was one of dozens of loyalists camped on Monday outside Mr Khan’s hillside home in Bani Gala, a suburb about 30 minutes outside the capital.
Many of Khan’s supporters have been there since Sunday (21) night after authorities accused him of breaching the country’s anti-terrorism act for allegedly making threats against state officials. Earlier, Khan had accused these state officials of detaining and torturing a close aide.
He has since been charged under the country’s anti-terror laws.
The accusations against him led to dozens of his supporters braving the scorching sun with the aim of keeping watch over him.
Many were flying his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party flag, while others draped themselves in scarves in the party’s green and red colours.
The mood was calm but the crowd had a clear mission – they told me they wanted the charges against Mr Khan dropped, and some threatened civil unrest if the case continued further.
“We are not going to let them take our leader. He is the only one good for Pakistan, we are going to fight,” said a 34-year-old man, who would not give his name.
As he spoke, the men around him nodded in agreement. They believed Khan was the target of political persecution.
But how did this latest debacle start?
The terrorism charges are related to a speech at the weekend where the former prime minister condemned a local police chief and a female judge for the detention and alleged torture of his close aide, Shehbaz Qill.
In the speech, Khan said: “You should also get ready as we will take action against you,” referring to the pair directly.
The Police interpreted this as a terrorism threat.
“Terrorism has been spread, the country’s peace has been harmed,” the Police report said. It also called for the former Prime Minister to be punished.
The fight between Khan and the coalition government has been brewing since he was removed as prime minister in April in a no-confidence vote.
Since then, the former cricket legend has been scathing in his criticism of the new government as well as the military – who are accused of interfering in the country’s politics behind the scenes.
The Government, in turn, has already charged Khan with inciting violence in connection with acts of arson and vandalism committed by his supporters during a rally in May.
And a day prior to the most recent terrorism charge against him, the country’s top media regulator also banned the live broadcast of Khan’s speeches for “spreading hate speech against officials and state institutions”.
There are therefore concerns from some within the coalition government that the latest terrorism charge against the former prime minister does not only have the potential to create political instability, but could also lead to violent protests. At a time when political tensions are continuing to rise, it is one of the first times the new government has been divided over its stance on Khan, government insiders told the BBC.
Khan is yet to address this latest controversy but senior leaders within his party have pledged their unwavering support. Some are also wondering whether all this will backfire in the Government’s face.
There are already early indications on social media that Khan still enjoys huge support.
It is believed that his consistent framing of the current government as a “regime change conspiracy” and an “imported government” has struck a powerful chord with ordinary Pakistanis and led to electoral victories in ongoing by-elections.
“I think the biggest defeat for the government is our victory in by-elections in Karachi at the weekend. We won with a big lead, it’s clear that the PTI is the future,” said 30-year-old Anwar Ali outside Khan’s home.
“All our people are here to protect and to support him,” Ali added. “Police will have to step over our dead bodies before they get to him. He is our last hope, we are here to defend him even in this hot weather… he is our last hope,” Ali added.
75-year-old Mohammed Khaliq agreed. “After 30, 40 years we finally got an honest leader,” he said.
“He is an asset to Pakistan. Before him everyone was a looter, they were taking turns one after the other, stealing from Pakistan. We will give our lives to protect him if need be. They should forget this arrest, he didn’t commit any crime.”
By Pumza Fihlani