PTI ally Sheikh Rashid resurfaces, says he was on ‘pilgrimage’

Published October 20, 2023
Awami Muslim League (AML) chief and PTI ally, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, speaks during an interview with Samaa TV.
Awami Muslim League (AML) chief and PTI ally, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, speaks during an interview with Samaa TV.

Awami Muslim League (AML) chief and PTI ally, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, has resurfaced over a month after his arrest from Rawalpindi, and said he was gone on a “pilgrimage”.

Rashid made these remarks in an interview with Samaa TV on Friday, marking his first appearance since his detention by plainclothes personnel at his residence on September 17.

Widespread violent protests broke out across the country on May 9, following the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. During the protest, military installations — including the Lahore corps commander’s residence — and state properties were damaged across Pakistan, eliciting strong condemnation from the military.

Since then, several PTI leaders have chosen to part ways with the party. Farrukh Habib and Usman Dar are among the most recent.

In line with other PTI leaders who have either departed from the party or resigned from their party roles, Rashid also voiced his disapproval of the events on May 9, deeming them “highly condemnable”. He also described the day as a “black day” for Imran.

During the interview, he said he was on a “40-day pilgrimage (chilla)” where he studied the Holy Quran in detail and introspected. “This was a tough period too, but no one harmed me and [rather they] cooperated with me,” he said without elaborating.

When questioned about his motivation for giving an interview, Rashid mentioned that he did so “because it has become customary”.

Commenting on the May 9 incident, he said the events of that day should be condemned during sermons every Friday. He underlined that he was abroad at that time and had condemned the incident a day later “but it went unnoticed”.

When asked as to why Imran desired to prevent Gen Asim Munir from becoming the army chief, Rashid did not elaborate, just saying that “we [PTI] shouldn’t have done that”.

“He [Gen Munir] was eligible and on the top too.” He described it as a “mistake”.

He emphasised that politicians should steer clear of such issues, stating, “This falls within the domain of the military, and it’s up to them to determine seniority. We should refrain from engaging in this debate.”

Rashid highlighted that decisions made by the “chief” cascaded to the bottom.

“I used to pray during Tahajjud prayer, beseeching God to grant me the strength to reach Asim Munir and ask him to forgive all those involved.”

“I firmly believe that a politician should refrain from naming any army officer,” he conveyed to the host.

In response to a question, Rashid suggested that the torching of the corps commander’s residence in Lahore might have been part of a larger plan. “But I have prayed to God that I will advocate for the release of all those who are detained and I will seek forgiveness on their behalf.”

He stressed his desire to seek forgiveness, particularly for the “common people.” Rashid urged the army to “forgive all those who were involved in the events”.

The AML chief said he had always advised Imran to be on good terms with the army.

Rashid recollected that he had requested permission from Imran to join the negotiation team but was denied. “I hail from Rawalpindi, and someone from that city naturally has connections with an agency.”

In response to a question about whether Imran’s government was indeed the target of a US conspiracy, Rashid replied, “I participated in a meeting convened to discuss this, and I was also present at a rally where this issue was raised. It’s quite a coincidence that all three individuals who were negotiating with the army on behalf of Imran have now established their own political parties.”

Rashid said Shahbaz Gill, Zulfi Bukhari, Shireen Mazari and Hammad Azhar were close [to the PTI chief]. “This country cannot function without its institutions, and in a conflict between politicians and institutions, it is always the latter that prevails.”

When asked if PTI was now his adversary, the AML chief responded negatively, stating, “I have only one seat, and what difference would it make if they were to take my seat?”

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