ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing a convention of overseas Pakistanis on Tuesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing a convention of overseas Pakistanis on Tuesday.—APP

• Imran challenges media, opposition, economists to debate economy’s ‘upward trend’
• Fawad threatens ruling party MNAs thinking of voting on no-trust
• Rashid says crucial phase of politics to climax by month’s end

ISLAMABAD: Once again taking on the opposition troika of the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F leadership, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday claimed these parties have, in fact, been entrapped by submitting the no-confidence motion against him, as the move has not only invigorated the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), but will also lead to complete disappearance of the opposition from the political map.

The premier, while recalling his government’s achievements, challenged the opposition, media and economists to a debate on what he called the “upward trends” of the economy during his party’s rule.

He also claimed that in a bid to save the country, the nation was ready to go down with him, but could not support the “corrupt” previous rulers. He also reiterated his appreciation for the army, saying that it had saved the country from break-up. Mr Khan lambasted Nawaz Sharif for his alleged links with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding that he (Sharif) went out of his way to appease Mr Modi. PM Khan held a series of meetings with ruling party legislators and allies for consultation on how to confront the no-confidence motion.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry again dared the ruling party lawmakers to vote against the PM. “One million people will be waiting to welcome you at D-Chowk on March 27.”

Addressing the Overseas Pakistanis Convention here on Tuesday, the PM lauded the Pakistan Army by calling it “one of the best armies in the world” for defending the motherland despite the threats from anti-Pakistan forces.

He again asked the people to proceed to the capital for the PTI’s “mammoth” public meeting on March 27 despite the fact that two government allies -- Balochistan Awami Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid -- have advised him against the rally as it may lead to ‘bloody politics’ in the country.

“They (opposition leaders) have fallen into the kaptaan’s (referring to himself) trap and will face a defeat on the no-trust motion as well as in the 2023 elections,” the prime minister said while referring to three main opposition leaders -- PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Calling the opposition leaders “stooges”, the PM said: “I am thankful to the three stooges for bringing the no-confidence motion as it has not only revived my party, but will also pave the way for their own elimination,” he asserted.

Mr Khan also remarked on a lighter note that the opposition parties had made people forget the prices of tomatoes and potatoes. “Last night, I was thinking about what has brought a significant change in the last 10 days -- people have forgotten price hike, my party has revived and the three stooges have united. Then I realised it was the no-trust motion,” he joked.

He challenged the opposition parties to confront the PTI on its performance in any sector. “If these are the leaders who are going to save the country, people will prefer drowning with Imran Khan than going along with them,” he claimed.

In an attempt to justify the rising inflation in the country in the past few years, Mr Khan said inflation had hit the economies of all countries alike, but in Pakistan his government was making efforts to reduce the burden of price hike on the masses.

About his performance on the global stage, the premier claimed he had restored the image and reputation of Pakistan in the world, while previous leaders, Nawaz and Zardari, had made several compromises on national security because they did not have the courage to take a firm stance in front of the West. Referring to a meeting of former US president Barack Obama with Nawaz, Mr Khan claimed the former prime minister trembled with fear lest his words upset the US president.

“Such leadership can sell out Pakistan for the sake of their corruption and petty interests,” he claimed.

Turning towards the armed forces’ defence, the premier said they were fully capable of defending the country. About 400 drone attacks were recorded on Pakistani territory in the 10 years of the PPP and PML-N’s rule. “Not a single international law allows such an act of judge, jury and executioner,” he said, adding that the country has suffered 80,000 casualties due to the so-called war on terror, besides the displacement of 3.5 million people.

Mr Khan also maintained that he had never been against any country, including India, the US and the UK, saying one could not be against the people of any particular country. “We can also resume talks with India if it revokes the controversial and unilateral steps of Aug 5, 2019 in India-held Kashmir,” he said, adding that the learned segments of Indian society were opposing the Hindutva ideology in their country, but due to the rule of fascists, people were facing the worst persecution.

In the context of the country’s sovereignty, Mr Khan praised former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for keeping his own and the country’s respect supreme. “Despite my differences with Bhutto’s policies, I admire him for being a leader with self-respect and standing for the respect of the country. He was not slave-minded, but a proud leader of the nation,” he exclaimed.

Finally moving to the overseas Pakistani, about whom the event was held, the prime minister lauded their contribution to the country’s economy, saying he had close ties with them and realised their issues. The expats always felt pained when they saw their motherland lagging behind other countries in terms of progress and development, he commented.

Govt’s threats

Meanwhile, the information minister once again threatened PTI MNAs that they will have to wade through a million people gathering at D-Chowk (in front of the Parliament House) if they wished to cast a vote on the no-trust motion of the opposition. “Let’s see how you will vote against Imran Khan on that day,” he announced.

Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Dr Shahbaz Gill, in a tweet posted in Urdu, urged the party’s youth wing to set up tents at D-Chowk from March 24.

PM meets legislators

On the other hand, PM Khan continued his efforts to woo his party’s and allied legislators to ensure their support for the no-confidence motion in parliament. Those who met the PM were federal ministers Dr Fehmida Mirza and Ali Zaidi, Senator Saifullah Abro, MNA Faheem Khan as well as MPAs from Sindh Attaullah, Haleem Adil Sheikh, Sheikh Ali Junejo, Syed Afendi, Sidra Taimur and Riaz Ahmed,MNAs Lal Chand, Shanila Ruth, Jai Prakash, Jamshed Thomas, Chaudhry Muhammad Adnan, Ijaz Khan Jazi, Sahibzada Sibghatullah, Mehboob Shah, Muhammad Basher Khan, Junaid Akbar, Saleh Muhammad, Mujahid Ali, Malik Anwar Taj, Nasir Khan, Shehryar Afridi, Malik Fakhar Zaman Khan, Khurram Shehzad, Rubina Jamil, Rahat Amanullah, Malik Karamat Ali, Rai Murtaza Iqbal, Zahoor Hussain and Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan.

Sheikh Rashid in Lahore

Over in Lahore, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid claimed the politics in Pakistan was entering a crucial phase, and foresaw a climax at the end of the ongoing month. He, however, warned that a “misadventure could lead to disastrous results”.

Addressing the media at his Lahore residence, the minister welcomed the opposition for its planned protest in the capital. “I offer a personal guarantee that no one will be stopped or hindered. We have called over 1,000 Rangers and Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel to ensure law and order in the capital and everyone should feel secure.”

Anarchy would not benefit anyone and its consequences can harm everyone, he added.

“All allied parties (of the government) are standing with Prime Minister Imran Khan and this fact is breeding frustration among the opposition parties. Instead of gathering their workers, they should ensure the presence of 172 MNAs and their votes (in favour of the no-confidence motion). Their frustration shows they are struggling to achieve the numbers and trying to purchase them instead.”

When asked that instead of advising restraint why he did not work as a bridge between the government and the opposition, the minister said: “Things have gone beyond that point now.”

To a question about the PML-Q’s behaviour and expected decision on supporting the opposition or not, Mr Rashid said he could not say anything except that it was an independent party and needed to decide for itself. “We have to wait till the end of the month to see which way they go.” He, however, remarked they should side with Imran Khan in this hour of need.

Islamabad is set to host the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation conference after over two decades exactly when the opposition has planned to “storm” the capital. A cricket match between Australia and Pakistan would also be under way in those days. “Does it serve the national cause to disrupt life in Islamabad?” Mr Rashid questioned.

Talking about the putative “umpire,” he said “they are neutral in the true sense of the word and stand with Pakistan and democracy”.

Ahmad Fraz Khan in Lahore also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2022

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