PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday asked if the country could be held back for the appointment of the army chief, suggesting that instead of thinking about what will happen in November, the focus should be on bringing stability back to Pakistan.
In an interview with journalist Imran Riaz Khan on Express News, Imran said that while the army played an important part in the country's national security, economic stability was equally important.
"We have to choose [...] do we want stability or a new army chief?" he said in response to a question.
He then went on to give the example of the Soviet Union, that according to him, broke apart due to economic instability.
"Right now, the more important issue than the army chief's appointment is stability and only one thing can bring that — elections," Imran said, highlighting that the aim should be to prevent Pakistan from falling into a place where "things go out of hand".
He highlighted that the markets were tumbling, industries were closing down and the economy was in a freefall. "Now is the time to decide. But this fear in Zardari and Shehbaz [of losing the elections] is sabotaging the entire country," the PTI chairman went on to say.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was given an extension by the previous PTI government in 2019, will leave his position on November 29 when his second three-year tenure comes to an end.
The next army chief's appointment is at times mentioned as one of the major subplots in the ongoing political crisis engulfing the country.
In an interview with BBC Urdu in May, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said: "Imran Khan wanted to do things his own way on the matter of the new army chief's appointment. He wanted to ensure the protection of his political interests and the continuity of his rule."
The remarks were in response to when the interviewer brought up the impression that former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted over the new army chief's appointment.
That same month, Imran said he never wanted to bring his own army chief and that he never meddled in Pakistan Army's affairs.
But as if the appointment is seemingly at the heart of the matter, President Arif Alvi had late last month said in his opinion there was "no harm" in appointing the next army chief before the expiry of the incumbent's term.
"In my opinion, there is no harm in making the army chief's appointment ahead of time," he told reporters.
'Neutrals nominated Sikandar Sultan as CEC'
In the interview, Imran fired broadsides at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and criticised Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.
He said that it was the "neutrals" — a euphemism Khan uses to describe the military establishment — who suggested the latter's name as the head of the ECP.
He said that according to the 18th Amendment, heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), ECP and caretaker governments were supposed to be decided amicably by all the political parties.
"At the time of CEC's appointment, there had been a deadlock [among the parties]. So, the neutrals approached us and said that the country needed to move forward.
"They suggested Sikandar Sultan's name. I didn't even know him [back then]. But people told us that he was PML-N's man," Imran recalled, saying that when he told the neutral about this, they guaranteed that the CEC would stay neutral.
"But we made a mistake of appointing him because in all these years, from day one, he has been passing decisions against us," the PTI leader regretted.
And the worst thing the CEC did was create hurdles in the approval of the electronic voting machines (EVM), he continued.
"He did his best to oppose them and so did the other two parties (PML-N and PPP) because they are experts at rigging," Imran said, adding that PTI would file a reference against the CEC in the Supreme Judicial Council.
He added that despite having all the evidence right in front of his eyes, Raja refused to intervene. "How can he let votes be bought? He has no shame."
'ECP involved in conspiracy'
The PTI chairman also alleged that the ECP was involved in the conspiracy with the incumbent government and Raja was a part of it.
"When they [the govt] participated in the regime-change conspiracy, they thought our party will come to an end," he said. "After that, they thought they would win the by-elections [recently held in Punjab], but they lost that too. so now, they have opted for a technical knockout."
Imran said that ECP's ruling — which he referred to as a "report" — on PTI's prohibited funding case was "rubbish" and was "disrespectful of PTI".
"They made two reports and one was added on someone's wishes which said PTI was foreign-funded [...] but this is mentioned nowhere else except the end," he said, reiterating that the ECP prepared it on "someone's orders".
"They say PTI can't raise funds from overseas Pakistanis," Imran said, questioning what part of the law said that.
On the misdeclarations, he said what he signed was actually just a "certificate" which stated that he had approved the funds "to the best of my knowledge".
He said: "Despite our requests of probing of all political parties, he didn't bring up their funding because then the public would know only PTI raises funds genuinely.
"These other parties, they are just dependent on seths."
The PTI chief added that tomorrow, a parliamentary delegation of the PTI will go to the ECP office in Islamabad and convey that the party had lost confidence in the electoral body and there would be no protest outside it.
'Elections only way forward'
The ex-premier also said that "free and transparent" elections were the only way out of the crises that have grappled the country right now.
He highlighted that rupee was falling and the markets were suffering because they had "lost confidence" in the government. "Imagine that a country's army chief has to call America and request them for funds."
Imran said that he was even ready to talk to the government if they "dissolve the assemblies today and announce the new date for elections".
In the same breath, he said that it, however, didn't seem like the coalition government wanted to opt for that because he claimed they were "afraid of losing".
"They are not thinking about the country, they just want to save their loot [...] this is their issue, not Pakistan," he said. "They have money abroad, they don't care if the rupee falls. This will just increase their wealth."
The PTI chairman also lambasted the coalition for accepting the resignations of 11 PTI lawmakers in the National Assembly "in bits and pieces" warning that it would bring further instability into the country.
'Giving space to America will affect relations with Afghans'
Towards the end of his interview, while responding to a question on the recent American drone strike in Afghanistan which killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, Imran said that he wasn't aware if Pakistan had provided its "[air]space" to the US.
"But if they have, this could seriously damage our relations with Afghanistan," he warned, cautioning that in the past, Pakistan had suffered grave consequences for "minuscule benefits".
"Whether you like the Taliban or not, you need to accept that they are not against Pakistan, unlike the Ghani government.
"And this is why we should not do anything that affects these relations. If we give space and if America conducts a drone attack in Afghanistan, it will affect our tribal areas. Do we want to become a part of someone else's war amid these crises?" he asked.
"Have we not learned and will we become a part of someone else's conflict again?"