LAHORE: PTI Chairman Imran Khan has blamed the military for the alleged abductions of journalists when he was the prime minister.

In an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC, aired on Monday, Mr Khan was grilled over the atrocities committed against the journalists during his reign in power when he brought up the current restrictions on media and journalists.

The PTI chairman shrugged off the comparison as a “false equivalence”, saying that no news channel was closed and no journalist was forced to leave the country when he was in power.

He added that the only journalist to be picked up was Matiullah Jan, and he too was recovered the next day when he learnt about the case.

Says hybrid system ‘doomed to fail’; calls for peaceful protests against desecration of Holy Quran

Pakistan was “at the tail end of the war on terror” and “the establishment” was wary about any criticism from journalists, he said. “So they were responsible for a few guys who were picked up.”

However, it was nothing compared to what’s happening at the moment, he claimed, adding that “four of the country’s top journalists” left the country while the fifth one, Arshad Sharif, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court chief justice that his life was in danger. “He escaped [but] he was killed in Kenya.”

Mr Khan also referred to his unannounced blackout from TV news channels, claiming that not even his name could be mentioned.

At this point, the host interjected, saying when he was the prime minister, the name of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif couldn’t be mentioned on air.

Mr Khan called this comparison baseless as well, saying that Mr Sharif was convicted by the Supreme Court and “faked illnesses” to leave for England.

“You can’t compare what is happening to me. I’m not convicted but the media couldn’t say my name.”

Hybrid system ‘doomed to fail’

Mr Khan also said that the hybrid system — a tacit power-sharing mechanism between the civilian and military leadership — cannot work in Pakistan and is “doomed to fail”.

“If you are an elected prime minister you must have the authority to implement reforms. It cannot work when you [the PM] have the responsibility because you are elected but the authority is shared and the army chief has veto power.”

“I wanted to bring the mafias under the law but the former army chief had the veto power leading to blocking him from laying hands on the corrupt,” he claimed while blaming ex-army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

When asked if he had any regret over taking power in 2018, the former PM said: “I should have gone into elections again and not taken power with a weak coalition because you can’t reform and implement the rule of law with a weak coalition.”

Commenting on the current situation, the PTI chairman said democracy, rule of law and governance system were in tatters and “Pakistan is on the edge of darkness”.

“There is an undeclared martial law in the country,” Mr Khan said and claimed some 10,000 PTI leaders and workers have been arrested in cases of arson.

Call for peaceful protests

Separately, on Monday, the PTI chairman called for peaceful protests on Friday against the desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden.

He said the desecration has hurt the sentiments of Muslims and the nation should send a message in this regard.

“I ask the nation to come out after Jumma prayers and send a message in a peaceful manner that we are hurt.”

In a speech, broadcast on social media, Mr Khan also claimed that the PPP and PML-N leaders have devised a formula to share seats among themselves and the newly-formed Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party in the four provinces.

“They want to keep out Pakistan’s biggest political party and arrest Imran Khan as they are afraid of PTI’s return to power.”

In the address, a day before Mr Khan is due to appear in court to seek bail in around 19 cases, as per his claims, he expressed apprehension that he could be arrested again.

He also detailed all cases registered against him and said if bail was not granted in any one of the cases, he could be put in jail again.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2023

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