ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday accused PTI of carrying out a smear campaign against Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Asim Munir, an allegation the party has denied.

“Disgusting smear campaign of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf against Chief of the Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, at the behest of Imran Niazi, deserves the strongest condemnation,” the prime minister said in a tweet.

He accused former PM Imran Khan of “stooping to unprecedented lows in his desperation for power and going to the extent of damaging the country and undermining its armed forces and their leadership”.

The campaign against the COAS was intolerable as it was a continuation of a conspiracy against national institutions, a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office quoted Shehbaz Sharif as saying.

Mr Sharif urged overseas Pakistanis to raise their voice against the “foreign-funded” campaign. He cautioned them against “becoming part of a dirty political game being played through expatriates”.

The prime minister said Imran Khan was violating the constitution by dragging national institutions and their leadership into his “dirty” politics.

He instructed the interior minister to deal firmly with those running the “vilification campaign against institutions”.

Shehbaz Sharif warned of “strict legal action” against those fanning chaos and subversion in the country. A campaign against an army chief appointed purely on merit for the first time in the country’s history could only be an agenda of “anti-Pakistan elements”, he added.

“The whole nation stands by its institutions and is united against miscreants.”

PTI reaction

However, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that his party has nothing to do with any slanderous campaign against the army chief, “rather we expect his good office to play role (sic) in normalising Pak politics by helping ECP to hold peaceful and transparent elections”.

He claimed that this move was aimed at “further enlarge the gulf between people and the army” so the current PDM government could “continue with loot and plunder”.

“When the institution of the army chief is weakened, the army is weakened and, as a result, the country is weakened.”

Talking to the media outside Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence, he said the PTI and the nation hoped the Army chief would accept the Election Commission’s request and assist it in conducting peaceful elections. Condemning the arrest of PTI workers, he said so far 46 arrests had been put on record. “Dozens more have not been brought on record. In Islamabad and other areas, hundreds of workers have been arrested, but records don’t bear this out,

“Hassaan Niazi, a nephew of Imran Khan, has been arrested by Islamabad police despite having been bailed by the court. Some lawyers have sold their soul and are now helping police nab PTI workers.”

Fawad Chaudhry said his party had decided to initiate contempt cases against the caretaker chief minister, the Inspector General of Punjab Police and Maryam Nawaz of PML-N over the operation at Zaman Park.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2023

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