LAHORE: As the federal government continued to send mixed signals regarding the upcoming general elections, former prime minister Imran Khan on Thursday said the establishment and the rulers were “petrified of elections” because they feared the PTI would sweep polls.

Earlier this week, the prime minister said that the elections would be held on the basis of the most recent census, which could delay polls for at least 90 days as per the law minister.

In an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk programme from Lahore, the PTI chairman said his party was very much intact despite all atrocities unleashed against party leaders and workers, including women.

He said several party leaders had quit the party under pressure while “some 10,000 party leaders and workers including women are still in jails — several facing custodial torture too”.

“Me too in, a sort of, house arrest,” he added.

He said, “Free and fair elections are the only solution to drive the country out of current political and economic crises, while terrorism is only an off-shoot.”

The PTI chairman lamented that there was an “undeclared martial law and the country was heading towards dark ages” but this did not warrant that he would shake hands with those who had been robbing this country. “Am I supposed to join the same people [Nawaz and Zardari], who are responsible for destroying rule of law in Pakistan,” he asked.

As the anchor called Mr Khan a hypocrite for speaking against the establishment only after it withdrew its support, the PTI chief claimed his party was not created by the military establishment.

The ex-PM said he had built his party from scratch over 22 years and it was genuine support among the masses that helped it win 30 out of 37 by-elections after the establishment allegedly toppled the PTI government.

“The PTI did not come into power because of the army but because the army did not oppose it in 2018,” he said and added that the military had backed Nawaz Sharif to bring him into power in 2013.

Mr Khan claimed said that the court’s rulings had explained that none of the PTI leaders and workers were involved in any violence on May 9 and went on to demand independent investigations into the arson attacks at four places. “I am guilty of absolutely nothing,” he said.

Rejecting the anchor’s question of equating his demand to declare Nawaz Sharif ineligible for any public office with the same fate hovering over his head, the PTI chairman said these were completely unrelated incidents.

“You cannot compare four luxury flats worth millions of dollars to what was going on here,” he said in a reference to graft charges against him. Saying the rulers and military establishment want to imprison him, disqualify him or both, the PTI chief said he was facing some 200 cases ranging from terrorism to blasphemy. He said he had made around 350 court appearances during the past two months.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2023

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