LAHORE: A week after his party urged the president to take notice of “brazen interference by intelligence agencies and some sections of the establishment” in politics, PTI chief Imran Khan on Tuesday gave Army Chief Gen Asim Munir the “benefit of the doubt”.

The remarks by the former prime minister came in the wake of a spate of arrests, which did not spare his close aides and allies, and an ostensible delay in the elections for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab assemblies.

Imran Khan, who met journalists at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore, talked about elections, the ‘Jail Bharo’ (court arrest) movement, the economy, the incumbent government and multiparty moot, and his relationship with former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

When asked if Mr Bajwa’s successor was following the former chief’s policies with regards to the PTI, Mr Khan responded that Gen Munir had been in office for mere two months and he was willing to give him the “benefit of the doubt”. He, however, claimed that there was a “visible” chasm between the army and the public, something he described as “very dangerous” for the country.

PTI chief claims Gen Bajwa struck deal with Nawaz in return for his extension

As he compared his ouster via a no-confidence vote with the coup against the government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999, Imran Khan claimed that people celebrated when Mr Sharif was removed from power, but in response to Mr Khan’s ouster, the public thronged the streets as it did not like the “establishment siding with corrupt politicians” of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

The former premier spent a better part of the conversation talking about Nawaz Sharif, who has been in self-imposed exile in London since 2019 owing to health reasons.

“Nawaz has set two conditions for his return — my disqualification and victory in Punjab polls,” Mr Khan said. “But let me tell you that my disqualification is not possible in any of the fake cases they have instituted against me if legal procedures are followed.”

Talking about the ruling coalition’s plan, Imran Khan claimed, “The PDM will ensure my disqualification and arrest, institute cases against my party leaders; once it is certain that PTI has gotten weak, it will go for elections and utilise all resources at hand to massively rig them.”

Asked if he had limited options to push the PDM for polls in both provinces after quitting parliament and dissolving both provincial assemblies, the former prime minister said, “No … how long the PDM will be running away from elections. Whenever they are held, PTI will win. Mark my words.”

Mr Khan also compared his party with the Pakistan Peoples Party during the dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq in the 80s. “Through oppression, the political parties do not get weak, but rather emerge stronger. Take the example of PPP, which faced oppression at the hands of Gen Zia,” he added.

Speaking about the “court arrest” movement, which he announced last week, Imran Khan said he would be at the forefront of the struggle. “I will be leading the Jail Bharo Tehreek — which is a non-violent drive — after recovering from bullet wounds in two weeks or so,” he said, adding that preparations have been started in this regard.

Mr Khan added that the PDM could not delay the elections in two provinces beyond 90 days without violating the Constitution.

In a comment on the interim government in Punjab led by Mohsin Naqvi, Mr Khan alleged that Shehbaz Sharif was “directly controlling” the province. “What is happening to us today in Punjab might have happened when the tenure of the assemblies would have completed,” he said to a question about whether he regretted the decision to disband the assemblies.

‘Nawaz-Bajwa deal’

The former prime minister once again admitted that his decision to grant former army chief Mr Bajwa a three-year extension was a “big blunder”. He claimed that “Nawaz Sharif and company had struck a deal” with Mr Bajwa in return for endorsing his extension in parliament. In return, Mr Bajwa started securing relief for Nawaz and others in the corruption cases, Imran Khan alleged.

After cases against the Sharifs were halted in NAB, a “regime change plan” was hatched, which I came to know of in October 2021, Mr Khan claimed. He added that his government and Mr Bajwa were on the same page until the latter struck a deal with the PML-N supremo.

Though PTI has yet to make up its mind regarding the multiparty conference, which has been postponed twice, Imran Khan questioned the need for such a moot and said the government should take measures to address terrorism, “as the PTI did in its tenure”.

He reiterated that the Afghan Taliban government was not anti-Pakistan and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari should have visited Kabul to take up matters with the regime. “We have a 2,500km-long border with Afghanistan and we cannot afford any trouble there,” he said.

It may be noted here that State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar did visit Kabul last year.

Speaking about the economic situation, Mr Khan said the government had no other option but to go to the IMF. “Economic stability can come in Pakistan only through elections and not through auction … this everyone will have to understand as they (government) have tried everything but failed to stabilise the economy,” Mr Khan declared.

The PTI chief also lambasted the government for wrapping up the health card scheme in Punjab.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2023

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