• Claims opponents distorting his remarks on COAS selection; accuses PDM leaders of ‘far cruder outbursts’
• Says he didn’t mean to use harsh language against Islamabad judge

PESHAWAR: In a bid to clarify his remarks about the appointment of the army chief that prompted widespread criticism, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday claimed that his rivals were “distorting” his statements to pit him against the military and the judiciary.

“My criticism of the Pakistan Army is constructive in nature,” the former prime minister told a charged crowd during a political gathering in Peshawar. “The army is mine… the country is mine… strong institutions are a guarantee for the stability of the country,” he said.

Mr Khan insisted his words were taken out of context and said that propaganda had been unleashed against his party and him to discredit them.

“What did I say wrong,” Imran Khan asked the crowd. “I only asked for the appointment of the army chief on the basis of merit,” he said, adding that merit-based appointments were mandatory to strengthen any institution.

“I talked about merit in the selection of the army chief…what did I say wrong,” the PTI chief asked, referring to the criticism levelled against him in light of his controversial remarks. “I had also said that Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari should not select the new army chief. Why did I say that…Nawaz Sharif is a convict… Should an absconder and a thief be allowed to select the army chief of Pakistan,” Mr Khan asked, rhetorically. He also referred to the Memogate affair and said Mr Zardari had asked the US through then Pakistan envoy Hussain Haqqani to “save his government from the army”.

“Are these the people who would select the army chief? Will we allow these crooks to make such important appointments,” the PTI chief asked.

He also raised his “third question” on the issue and asked whether those who came to power through an alleged foreign conspiracy should be allowed to choose the chief of army staff.

“I mentioned these things and they say Imran Khan is against the army,” the former premier said, questioning the treatment meted out to him.

He then went on to play the videos of the PDM leaders, particularly Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, Asif Ali Zardari, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, to show that those now part of the government had themselves criticised the army in the past.

“These people have the audacity to tell us that we are against the army,” Imran Khan said as he played several videos of the PDM leaders lashing out at the military. He also played one of his own old videos during the public meeting in which he was speaking in favour of the army.

“When the army is strong, the entire country is strong and we enjoy independence,” he said and alluded to the instability in the Muslim world.

‘Strong judiciary important’

The former prime minister said that he was not against the judiciary and added that he had launched a movement for the independence of the judiciary 26 years ago.

“No society can progress without the rule of law,” he said, adding that he had not allowed a single party worker to speak against the judiciary.

Speaking about his remarks regarding an Islamabad judge during a rally last month, Imran Khan said he did not mean to use “harsh language” against Judge Zeba Chaudhry.

According to the PTI chief, the treatment meted out to his chief aide Shahbaz Gill had prompted his criticism, but he could never think of “threatening a judge”.

Earlier in the day, the former prime minister bashed his opponents, saying that they were “deliberately distorting” his remarks about the future army chief’s appointment. “[I] am following intense propaganda launched by [the] PDM cabal of crooks against me. This stems from being petrified of PTI’s soaring popularity,” Mr Khan had tweeted.

The remarks by Mr Khan on Sunday invited flak from the military itself. The Inter-Services Public Relations had also issued a statement, saying that the army was “aghast at the defamatory and uncalled for statement about the senior leadership”.

Imran Khan had lashed out at the PPP and PML-N and said both parties were opposing snap elections, because they wanted to “appoint an army chief of their choice” in November to save their skin in corruption cases.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif were making all-out efforts to bring their “favourite” army chief after the retirement of the incumbent chief in November this year, he had alleged.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2022

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