Imran says called off Azadi March to avoid 'imminent bloodshed' as some protesters were 'also armed'
Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Monday, while explaining why he ended the Azadi March last week, said he feared that "bloodshed" was imminent as some of his party workers were also armed and could have retaliated in the face of the authorities' hours-long shelling and heavy-handed tactics.
After an intense build-up the previous day and repeatedly urging his supporters to reach D-Chowk in Islamabad in order to push the government towards new elections, Imran had on last Thursday sprang a surprise by retreating and calling off the march.
In an interview with TV journalist Moeed Pirzada for 92 News today, the PTI chairman revealed his reasoning for doing so, saying that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led government would have been the ultimate beneficiary of any ensuing chaos and violence.
"The hatred against police had already intensified and seeing me [at D-Chowk] would have further stoked the sentiments of my workers," he said. "I was a 100 per cent sure that bullets will be fired. People from our side were also ready as some of them were carrying pistols. It would have led to further hatred against the police and the army and caused divisions within the country ...," he told the interviewer.
"I was hundred per cent sure the country would have headed towards anarchy in this situation," he added.
The PTI chairman said the situation gave him the impression as if Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and PM Shehbaz Sharif had asked the Pakistan Army to let them handle the situation "so the government could teach a lesson to the protesters".
Imran said his party would approach the Supreme Court on Tuesday and ask whether or not holding a "peaceful protest" was permissible in the country. "If the Supreme Court does not protect our fundamental rights this time, then it is not democracy."
The former PM went on to say that "this will be the trial of the Supreme Court now".
Imran to opt for different strategy if marchers don't get SC's protection
Imran, while addressing a lawyers' convention in Peshawar earlier today, said that if the Supreme Court does not provide his party "protection" from police action for the next round of their protest, he would opt for a different strategy wherein his supporters would be "prepared" to deal with the situation.
He said: "If they (SC) don't give us protection, today I stand here in front of you and say that I will have another strategy."
Under this strategy, Imran said the PTI would make a plan for dealing with the obstacles. "[That] time round we weren't prepared [...] we were stuck unprepared. This time we will be prepared," he said, declaring that this was a jihad for him. "I will not accept this imported government at any cost."
Imran march for haqeeqi azadi — true freedom — was preceded by the authorities invoking of Section 144, a measure used to curb gatherings. Shipping containers were put in place on major thoroughfares to block their path.
Undeterred by the moves, the marchers, who tried to force through the containers to make their way to Islamabad, were met with tear gas as police tried to disperse them. Police also charged at them with batons.
PTI's Azam Swati has also filed a police complaint seeking the registration of a first information report (FIR) against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Inspector General of Police Islamabad Dr Akbar Nasir and others over "police brutality and unreasonable use of force" against PTI supporters.
During his speech, Imran came down hard on the ruling coalition, reiterating that they were brought in through a "foreign conspiracy". He also lambasted the government for the crackdown on the participants of the much hyped but short-lived Azadi March held on May 25.
"We have asked for a ruling from the SC over whether or not we have the democratic right to stage a peaceful protest? If this is a democracy [...] under what basis were we stopped? How can they stop the chief ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan?" he asked.
He asserted that his party did not have a "history of violence", pointing to the PTI's 126-day sit-in in Islamabad in 2014. He said that he called of the sit-in on May 25 in an effort to avoid bloodshed.
Imran said the brutality of the police had angered the people, adding that he feared that it would lead to violence and chaos. He said that it would also have developed hatred against the police as well as the army as Rangers had also fired tear gas shells.
"I did not want my country to be divided and for our enemies to benefit," he said.
Imran asked the apex court to give a ruling providing an explanation why obstacles were placed to stop the PTI from holding the long march. He also questioned whether the SC would still allow such "undemocratic" moves when the PTI announces the date for its next march.
"This kind of brutality doesn't even happen in dictatorships," he said.
During his speech, Imran said that Pakistan was currently witnessing a "defining moment", and called on the legal fraternity and the judiciary to play their role in saving the country.
"I want you all to think of this as a jihad. This is a fight for our haqeeqi azadi (true freedom)," he said. He went on to say that future generations would not be forgiving if they did not raise their voice.
Turning his guns towards the Sharif family, Imran said that when he entered politics he was warned about them. "I was warned that they were cheap and disgusting and would not spare my family."
He accused the Sharif family of functioning like a mafia where it would either buy off people's loyalties or eliminate them.
Imran also lamented that the law only applied to the country's poor, pointing out how the indictment of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Sharif was being delayed.