• Says he holds back criticism of military to avoid ‘hurting’ the institution
• PTI leaders defend backdoor talks with establishment as ‘constitutional’

LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan, while rea­cting to the press conference addressed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chiefs, said it was a “political presser” despite claims by the top generals that the military had nothing to do with political affairs.

“The interior minister, defence minister, or the prime minister himself could have addressed this presser [instead of the generals],” Imran Khan said during an interview with anchorperson Amir Mateen on 92 News. “Why did they have to do it,” the PTI chief asked. He termed the presser “unprecedented” and said if he responded to the allegations levelled against him by the generals then it “would hurt Pakistan” and the army as an institution.

“I have [always] tried to refrain from saying anything [negative] about the establishment so that it would not hurt the country,” the former premier said, adding that for the very same reason he resorted to euphemisms, such as Mr X and Y, to criticise the military officers instead of the institution.

He added that a strong army was important for a strong Pakistan which was why he did not want to hurt its reputation. “I have always indulged in positive criticism of the military,” the PTI chief added.

About making “secret deals” with the military, Mr Khan said what “deal he could have made…what could have they given me”. “I don’t say they were part of the foreign conspiracy [to oust my government] but they could have stopped it,” the former premier said while speaking about the no-trust vote against him which resulted in his ouster.

Speaking about the days preceding the no-trust vote, Imran Khan said that he told the army chief that if he was being offered an extension to his tenure by the then-opposition parties then “we can do the same”.

Elaborating on the “deal”, Imran said that the meeting took place at the President House. “And in it, one thing was said […] what I have said publicly several times […] that except for elections there is no other way.

‘Talks aimed at fair polls’

Earlier in the day, the PTI leaders held a press conference in response to the ‘unprecedented’ presser and said that the backchannel contacts with the establishment were aimed at free and fair general elections to bring political stability.

“Since there are no two opinions that the army has influence in the political affairs of the country, PTI Chairman Imran Khan was demanding that the army should use its influence to call free and fair elections to bring political stability,” said PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi. He added there was nothing unconstitutional in making this demand.

Mr Qureshi, Secretary General Asad Umar, and senior leaders Fawad Chaudhry, Shireen Mazari, and Hammad Azhar were speaking to media persons at the Punjab Chief Minister’s Secretariat.

The PTI leadership also stuck to its narrative built around the controversial cipher that foreign interference allegedly resulted in regime change through the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly.

Acknowledging the Pakistan Army’s statement that holding peaceful long march was PTI’s constitutional right, the PTI leaders said the nation would be marching on Islamabad using its constitutional right to protest and demand snap polls. “If the military is apolitical, it should not have held today’s press conference at all,” Mr Qureshi suggested.

Answering a question, Mr Umar confirmed that Imran Khan did hold meetings on the subject of extension for COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa but hastened to add, “If such talks behind closed doors were brought out into the open then who knows what details (Imran Khan) will start bringing out.”

Reacting to the army questioning Imran Khan’s credibility over his tirade against the army chief, the PTI leader acknowledged that the army was justified to take the side of its top leader and in the same breath asked how the army could damage the credibility of country’s top political leader, Imran Khan. “Both sides (army and the PTI) need to rethink and find a middle ground to go ahead,” he suggested.

Mr Umar reiterated that the army’s statement on the army-people relationship was welcoming and asked that the army as an institution must introspect that why a “situation was being created that patriots were also speaking against the army leadership”. “If you will think, you may find that the institution also committed some mistakes,” he added.

He acknowledged army’s statement that holding peaceful long march was PTI’s constitutional right and added that the nation would be marching on Islamabad from Friday (today) to demand early fresh polls. “Hopefully interior minister Rana Sanaullah and the PDM government had also listened to the army’s opinion on PTI’s long march,” he quipped.

Cipher controversy

Mr Qureshi countered army’s argument on the PTI’s narrative built around cipher and asserted that the party was “rightly worried that the foreign conspiracy was being hatched [to oust Imran] that eventually materialised”.

Acknowledging that the army chief did mention cipher in his talk in Kamra and added that Pakistan must demarche, Mr Qureshi said that the National Security Committee meetings were held and agreed that “political interference” was being made.

“The PTI did not use the Pakistan ambassador’s narrative for its political interests but explained that the diplomat explained he never saw such a `threatening’ language in his diplomatic career,” he said and added that the ambassador too asked for the issuance of demarche.

Mr Qureshi also referred to PTI’s leader (now suspended) Faisal Vawda’s presser and asserted that his party’s all protests and rallies in the past had been peaceful. “During our May 25 caravan, the government inflicted violence on us and we could not even fully defend ourselves,” he bemoaned.

Speaking on the occasion, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry demanded formation of a powerful commission in the case of slain journalist Arshad Sharif. PTI leader Shireen Mazari said she was “very saddened” by the ISPR chief’s press conference and termed it as a totally “untruthful statement”. She claimed that Arshad Sharif had told her that he was being targeted by assassins and there was a bounty on his head.

Ikram Junaidi from Islamabad adds: The PTI leader, Farrukh Habib, Rana Sanaullah, over his claims to stop participants of the long march, and vowed that tsunami of people will reach Islamabad come what may. Mr Habib alleged that a “murderer and a fascist person” was sitting in the position of the Minister of Interior. “No matter what Rana [Sanaullah] does, he will not be able to stop the sea of people coming to the federal capital because they are fed up with these thieves.”

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2022

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