PESHAWAR: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan speaks at the press conference.—APP
PESHAWAR: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan speaks at the press conference.—APP

• Says march will continue till dissolution of NA, announcement of a date for elections
• Asks army to remain neutral

PESHAWAR: Dubbing it the ‘battle for real freedom’, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan finally on Sunday announced May 25 as the starting date of the PTI’s `Azadi March’ to Islamabad.

The announcement was made days after the schedule of the much-trumpeted march was conspicuously missing from his Multan jalsa speech. On May 18, while addressing a lawyers’ convention in Lahore, Mr Khan had said he would announce the date of ‘Haqiqi Azadi March’ at a rally in Multan on May 20.

“The [long] march will continue till the acceptance of our two main demands: dissolution of the (National) assembly and announcement [of a date] for free and fair elections,” explained the ex-PM using PTI’s social media platform from CM House, where only ARY News was allowed for media coverage while journalists along with DSNGs of all other news channels were denied entry.

Mr Khan, who made the announcement in light of the decision earlier taken at PTI’s core committee meeting that he had chaired, said: “I will join the marchers on Srinagar Highway, Islamabad on May 25.”

While appealing to people from all walks of life to take part in the march in large numbers, Mr Khan warned: “We will take action against police and bureaucracy if obstacles are created in way of peaceful marchers.” He claimed the PTI workers in his 26-year political struggle had never opted for violence. However, he added, “All institutions belong to us including police, bureaucracy and army.”

“If the army is neutral, then it should remain neutral,” said Mr Khan, this time more specifically about the armed forces, unlike his recent weeks public addresses where he had asserted that “only animals could remain neutral”.

The PTI chairman claimed he had been repeatedly told there was a threat to his (Imran) life. But there was no threat to his life, he said, adding that death and life is in Allah’s hand.

“On the 25th, I will meet you [party workers] in Islamabad on the Srinagar Highway,” Mr Khan said. “You have to reach there at 3pm.”

‘Jihad, not politics’

Mr Khan said he had not only invited PTI workers but the entire nation to the march, because he was fighting for their “real independence”. He said: “I want people from all [walks of life] to come, because this is ‘jihad’, and not politics.

“I’ve decided and told all my team members that we have to be ready to sacrifice our lives.”

He also indicated that the march would convert into a sit-in and continue until his demands were accepted. “We will never come under any pressure till achieving our target. No matter how long we have to remain in Islamabad we will remain there.”

In the absence of rule of law, no nation can be put on the track of development, he said and mentioned the example of China where hundreds of corrupt people had been punished.

The ex-premier said that in his three-and-half-year tenure, the opposition parties made all-out efforts to blackmail him for NRO-like relief.

In the entire episode of his government’s ouster, he said, the Pakistani nation was disrespected in two ways. The first disrespect of the nation happened when its elected government was toppled “with the support of Mir Jaffar and Mir Saddiq”, he believed.

At the same time, he said, the nation was again disrespected when the corrupt politicians, who had allegedly looted the national wealth for 30 years, were “imposed upon” the masses as rulers.

According to him, the two top priorities of the incumbent PML-N government on its agenda are getting rid of corruption cases against them and making the National Accountability Ordinance a toothless law.

While criticising the new government’s economic management, the ex-PM said the rupee and stock market were seeing rapid decline. “They don’t have any plan or a roadmap. They can’t take decisions. They fear taking tough decisions and they don’t want to put a burden on themselves,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2022

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