PESHAWAR: Carefully avoiding announcing an exact date for the next round of his agitation, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan on Friday stated he was open to dialogue with “all institutions, including the imported government” but only after the date for fresh elections is announced.

“Dissolve the assembly and hold fresh elections,” the former prime minister told a presser at the Chief Minister’s House here. He vehemently denied having struck any deal with the military establishment to cut short his much-hyped long march on the federal capital to demand early polls.

“There has been no deal,” Khan stressed, adding: “The only reason I decided to end the long march was to avoid bloodshed and avoid creating a gulf between the establishment and the public.”

Insisting that this shouldn’t be seen as his weakness, the PTI chief warned: “We will never recognise this imported government. If the government does not dissolve the assembly and announce a date for fresh elections, we will be on the streets again.”

However, he did admit his party was not prepared to face the police action. “We will be better prepared next time,” he announced, calling Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz the “followers of Yazid” for unleashing police on ‘unarmed’ protesters.

Says no deal with powerful quarters to cancel sit-in, admits party wasn’t prepared for protest; notes it’ll be clear in six days whether SC protects PTI’s right to protest

During the presser, Mr Khan also kept urging the judiciary to “clarify” its position and “play your role”. He said he had written a letter to the chief justice of Pakistan, asking whether his party had the right to protest peacefully. He said the government was using “unconstitutional tactics” to stop them from exercising their fundamental rights and was pushing them towards revolt and creating a Sri Lanka-like situation.

Over the next six days (the deadline he gave to the government to announce elections), it would be clear whether the apex court protected their fundamental right to a peaceful protest or not, he remarked, alleging that the media was pressured and internet speed compromised to hamper coverage of the march.

“We have sought protection from the Supreme Court. People should come out fully prepared the next time. Protest is our right,” he said, and warned if they were not allowed to exercise their democratic right, the government would be responsible for any damage (to property) from adverse actions.

The PTI chairman also criticised the significant increase in fuel prices announced on Thursday, and accused the government of buckling under pressure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On the other hand, he claimed, his government had refused to listen to the Fund and had diverted resources to subsidise fuel to lessen the burden on people.

He said the increase in petrol prices would burden the masses even further. He claimed his government was negotiating with Russia to purchase fuel at discounted rates, but alleged that the US was unhappy over his visit to Moscow and conspired to overthrow his government. The US was using the IMF to enslave Pakistan and keep it on “life support system”, he alleged.

During the question-answer session, when a reporter asked Mr Khan about his unfulfilled promise of turning the PM House and governor houses into universities, what new narrative he would adopt for the next polls, and his followers ridiculing the institutions, he got offended, and after replying that no one could place curbs on social media, immediately left the presser.

Earlier, Mr Khan had visited Mardan to condole with the family of party worker, Syed Ahmad Jan, who had died during the long march. He was accompanied by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, senior provincial minister Muhammad Atif Khan to Jan’s residence located in New Mian Gul village.

Jan is said to have died after falling from a bridge on the KP-Punjab border when he along with other PTI activists was removing containers to clear the way for the marchers. He is survived by a widow and five children.

After offering condolences, the PTI chairman, while talking to the media, said the party worker’s sacrifice would not go in vain. “He is a martyr of the Azadi March and the party is proud of his sacrifice,” he said.

Mr Khan claimed the PTI would provide every kind of assistance to the family members of the slain worker. He also announced that he had asked party leaders to collect Rs10 million for each worker who had died during the long march.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022

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