Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday alleged that PTI chairman Imran Khan was using the death of journalist Arshad Sharif — who was murdered in Kenya earlier this week — to gain a political advantage.
“I am not indicating that someone is involved [in the murder] but a commission has been formed and if Imran has some evidence, he should not withhold information […] this is also a crime,” he said in a press conference in Sialkot.
Sharif was shot dead in Kenya allegedly by the local police on Sunday night, with an official police statement later expressing “regrets on the unfortunate incident” and saying an investigation was underway.
Initially, Kenyan media quoted the local police as saying Sharif was shot dead by police in a case of “mistaken identity”. Subsequently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif formed a judicial commission to probe the murder.
After the incident was reported, Imran — at a lawyer’s convention in Peshawar — had claimed that Sharif was a victim of a targeted killing.
“He never spared any mafia. He exposed these two families (Sharif and Zardari families) in every programme with proof but no one could scare or buy him … then he started getting threats from unknown numbers to ’not say this or speak the truth when he started exposing this regime.
“Then I received information that they were about to kill him. They invaded his home and scared him in front of his family just so that he doesn’t speak the truth,” Imran said, adding that he had then advised Sharif to leave the country.
In reference to Imran’s remarks today, the defence minister said that Imran’s statements regarding Sharif’s killing reflected that he had “some evidence” and urged the PTI chief to appear before the commission.
“If he [Imran] doesn’t come himself, he will be called,” he asserted. “I will not go to the extent of saying that he is involved [in the crime], but I will say that time will tell who is the culprit.
“He should either appear before the commission or shut up,” Asif said.
‘Indian channels celebrating Imran’s statements’
The minister also alleged that the anti-establishment statements Imran had been passing for the last few days were being “celebrated by the Indian media”.
After kicking off his long march towards Islamabad on Friday, the PTI chief — from atop his container — had contended that the recent press conference held by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was “more political than Sheikh Rashid” as he warned that if he started spilling facts, it would jeopardise the country and army’s reputation.
Imran had also called out two other army officers for playing the role of a certain “Dirty Harry” for picking up and torturing party senator Azam Swati. Seeking the attention of army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the PTI chief said these officers were tarnishing the image of the institution.
Criticising the former premier’s incriminations, Asif said that no leader had ever crossed the lines Imran had despite differences.
“Pakistan Army is included among the world’s best forces. Our intelligence agency, which is on the frontline of our defence … Imran is finding faults in it. And India is using all his statements for propaganda.
“He has provided them with this opportunity. Who is Imran working for in real,” the minister said, adding that the institutions wanted to stay “neutral” but the PTI chief dubbed it as being “an animal”.
“Our army protects the benefit of the country, not of politicians […] even politicians protect their country with their blood, but you don’t even do it verbally. You are thankless.
“You have crossed many red lines and now you have crossed this line of the blood of martyrs,” he added.
‘No negotiations taking place’
During his press conference, Asif also debunked reports of negotiations taking place between the government and the PTI.
He noted that a statement was “made from the container” that negotiations were taking place in Lahore while a TV channel had reported about Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah arriving for a meeting.
“There are no negotiations taking place right now,” he asserted, revealing that PTI lawmakers were approaching the government with the objective of abandoning Imran and wanted guarantees for their seats.
Asif downplayed the PTI long march, claiming that a mere few thousand people were attending it. He warned that the safety of the marcher fell upon the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab as “98 per cent” of the route is in those two provinces.
“The last 2pc of the route is in Islamabad, so if there’s any bloodshed, it’s on those two governments,” he added.