Defence Minister Khawaja Asif slammed PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Friday for “flirting” with the American government after accusing it of conspiracy and claimed that the former prime minister’s “cult following would soon fizzle out”.
The minister passed these remarks during a conversation with foreign media correspondents in Islamabad today. The interaction comes as Pakistan grapples with multiple crises on the political and economical front.
Asif began the press conference by pointing out the “hypocrisy” of the incumbent setup’s arch-rival Imran. “His political journey started with a cypher — in which he had accused the US of conspiring against the PTI government.
“And today, Shireen Mazari has written a letter to the US for him […] the country he once accused of conspiracy … he is now seeking help from them,” he stated.
Asif claimed that the series of events that have taken place after the vote of no-confidence “shows the total sum of Imran’s journey — his dismissal from the government and now his SOS to the US for help”.
He stated that Imran’s lies had surfaced in front of everyone during the past few years. “He was accusing the US of conspiring against him, even taking names, but now he is once again flirting with the American government through lobbyists and approaching them for some sort of aid and help.”
“His utterances are completely irrational … perhaps his followers do believe him but most people have lost track of whatever he says,” the minister said, referring to Imran’s supporters as “cult followers”.
‘Imran has offered to talk to the establishment, not govt’
In response to a question, the minister stated that for the past year, the government had been trying to reach a consensus on economic policies but the offers were rejected.
“He has offered to talk to the military leadership several times, but not the political leadership. Despite the fact that the present government was willing to talk on so many occasions, Imran kept on insisting and went to the extent of trying to approach the present leadership of the Pakistan Army.”
Before that, Asif went on to say, the PTI chief approached former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa multiple times through the president and even offered him an extension.
“Despite all his claims, Imran has not materially offered anything to the present government for dialogue,” he pointed out.
Asif also said that the government was “ready to talk for the sake of peace in the country”, highlighting that consensus was needed on major issues that Pakistan has been facing for the last few years.
The minister elaborated that “we are not in favour of a transactional dialogue [but] need something which is comprehensive, which covers everything”.
‘ECP decision to postpone Punjab elections justified’
On the matter of the Punjab polls — originally scheduled for April 30 — being delayed by more than five months to Oct 8, Asif said that the decision has been taken by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is the “body empowered to hold elections according to the Constitution”.
Explaining the reasons the ECP has given for its decision, he highlighted the country’s “deteriorated” security situation and “tough” economic times.
“Since February, in the last one month or couple of months, the security situation has definitely deteriorated,” the minister acknowledged.
Regarding the funding issues, he said, “I am aware of the fact that the ministry of finance has said that under the present circumstances, we are going through some very tough times […] so we won’t be able to provide funds for these elections, which if you hold now on 30th of April and then in October, so you are providing funds for elections twice in a year.”
Asif then mentioned the unavailability of adequate security for the polling stations: “The commitment that our army has at the moment for the internal and external threats, they’ve said that […] it takes almost a month for the deployment of forces to the polling stations, especially the static duty — they have to take over the polling stations.”
Clashes between police and PTI supporters
Referring to the events of the last few weeks, particularly the ex-premier’s appearance at the Federal Judicial Complex on March 18, Asif stated that nowhere in the world were such scenes witnessed that an accused had refused to appear before the court.
“And when he appears before the court, his attendance is marked while he is sitting in his car, his supporters mob the courts and intimidate them […] they (the courts) come under pressure and face threats.”
On the other hand, he continued, when the police were sent to Imran’s residence for arrests, officials were attacked with slings, petrol bombs, stones and sticks.
“This has never happened in Pakistan before. Even during Imran’s regime, and in the past too, opposition leaders were arrested and they surrendered in a dignified manner.
“Whatever victimisation took place, they never physically contested their arrest, never abused or maligned the courts,” the minister stressed.
He recalled that during the PTI government’s tenure, the entire leadership of the PML-N was put behind bars, but such resistance was not seen.
“I was picked up from the Embassy road and jailed for almost six months. It has been almost three years but my wife still appears in court. The victimisation of the opposition [during Imran’s government] was unprecedented.”
However, he contended that the coalition government never opted for such tactics, nor has it violated the law or the Constitution at any point.
Asif further pointed out that the coalition was governing the country under circumstances that were very different — administratively, financially and politically“.
“We do realise that the political capital that we had when we took over or when we moved towards the no-confidence movement has depleted and we have paid that cost.
“We had the option to dissolve the assemblies and announce elections, but we were in the middle of negotiating with the IMF (International Monetary Fund). An interim government perhaps could not do that as effectively as an empowered and elected government in power could,” he added.
Asif revealed that the government was handling crises every day, which he said were precipitated by Imran, and hoped that they would emerge out of them successfully.
At one point during the press conference, the minister also warned that if Imran or his followers resorted to violence again, they would be countered by the state’s writ and power.