Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday strongly condemned the "vile campaign" against the Pakistan Army and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir abroad and called on overseas Pakistanis to raise their voices against it.
"The campaign against the army chief is intolerable and a continuation of the conspiracy against the institutions," he said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
He said that "toxic politics" was being spread through overseas Pakistanis.
The premier called on patriotic Pakistanis living abroad to raise their voices against the "foreign-funded campaign" and not become a part of such conspiracies.
In his statement, PM Shehbaz also stated that PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan was dragging state institutions and their heads into his dirty politics, which was against the Constitution.
He instructed the interior minister that those behind such anti-institution campaigns within the country should be dealt with "iron hands".
"Strict legal action should be taken against those who instigate chaos, riots and rebellion in Pakistan," the premier stressed, adding that the nation stood by its institutions and was united against evildoers.
He further said that the campaign against the COAS, who according to the prime minister was the "first army chief to be appointed on merit in Pakistan", could only be the agenda of the enemies of the country.
Later in a tweet, PM Shehbaz said: "PTI's disgusting smear campaign against Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir at the behest of Imran Niazi is deserving of the strongest condemnation."
"This man Niazi is stooping to unprecedented lows in his desperation for power and going to the extent of damaging the country and undermining our armed forces and their leadership," he added.
The PMO statement comes a day after hundreds of Pakistanis Americans gathered outside the White House on Sunday, ignoring freezing cold and biting winds, to demand an end to the government’s actions against Imran.
During the demonstration, one of the protesters said that the "establishment must realise its mistake". Another PTI supporter said: “Now is the time for the establishment to accept civilian supremacy.”
A statement distributed at the gathering also urged the international community to take action by calling on the installed regime in Pakistan to immediately cease “violations” of fundamental human rights, stop “custodial torture” by security agencies, hold free and fair elections in Punjab and KP, cease victimisation of political opponents through arrests and false charges, withdraw all politically motivated cases, stop curtailing press freedom, cease subjecting peaceful protestors to police brutality and release all political workers being held in custody on frivolous and trumped-up charges, provide adequate security to Imran Khan, and hold those responsible for the atrocities accountable under the law.
Fawad says PTI respects army chief
Shortly after PM Shehbaz's statement was issued, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that remarks were solely aimed at creating a divide between the people and the army so that the two are "at war" and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) can "continue its looting".
"The PTI has only good wishes for the current army chief. We want the [army] chief to help the election commission in holding polls [so] that the country's [political] environment improves," he said on Twitter.
Later , while speaking to the media in Lahore, Fawad said: "When the institution of the army chief is weakened, the army is weakened and, as a result, the country is weakened."
He said that the PTI and the nation hoped the COAS would accept the electoral watchdog's request and aid in conducting peaceful elections, terming polls to be the only solution to the crises plaguing the country.
"The PTI has never carried out a campaign against the army chief and does not have the intention of doing so. We respect him," he said, adding that the party expected the COAS to play his role in helping to normalise the situation on the political front.
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