Soaring popularity allows Imran to change GHQ route to Islamabad

— Former PM says crackdown on PTI only intensified since change of army command

— Accuses ‘fearful’ government of looking for excuses to postpone vote

— Says Elahi’s appointment as party president a reward in return for unwavering ‘loyalty despite GHQ pressure’

LAHORE: As the support for Imran Khan skyrocketed ahead of the general elections, the former prime minister reiterated that his only demand was the conduct of free and fair elections, saying he was willing to speak with anyone but did not need “crutches” to come to power, a reference to the country’s powerful military establishment.

An opinion poll published by Gallup this week found that Khan’s approval ratings jumped to 61 percent in February from 36 percent in January last year.

During an interview with BBC Urdu, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) asserted that he would speak to everyone except “looters” of national wealth. He accuses the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and members of his coalition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government of denting the economy.

When asked if the much-anticipated change in military leadership in November had any impact on the attitude of the establishment towards his opposition party, he said that it did not make any difference to him.

Khan highlighted that cases were made against members of his party during the tenure of Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. In addition, there has been a significant increase in custodial violence against senior political figures such as Senator Azam Swati and Shehbaz Gill.

He said he had expressed hope that the new army chief, Gen. Asim Munir, would bring about a change in attitude. However, he noted this was not the case, and the hardships faced by PTI had only increased.

Khan also clarified that he never invited the army chief or Shahbaz Sharif to speak to him about the elections.

He clarified that his party has the backing of the people of Pakistan and does not need any kind of support or assistance from the military.

According to Khan, the Supreme Court had instructed the government to hold the election within 90 days. The president had also announced the election date. However, when PTI announced an election rally, well in advance, the police cracked down on our workers and there were incidents of violence. Many were arrested, and vehicles were smashed.

Khan argued that the caretaker government’s primary responsibility is to conduct elections. Therefore, it is difficult for his party to digest how they can prevent rallies and campaigns from taking place, as these are an integral part of the electoral process.

The former prime minister said the government is fearful of facing the electorate. The PTI had won 37 by-elections within a few months, and the government’s reputation is such that it cannot face the public on their own.

Their intention is to prevent the elections from taking place at all costs, he observed.

Khan accused the government of wanting chaos. He explained that the clashes with the police on Wednesday noon could have continued into the night, but the PTI did not want to offer an opportunity for the government to spill blood and prevent the elections from being held.

Khan noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set the election dates as per the Supreme Court’s instructions. However, it appears that the government is not interested in holding the election.

When asked about his strategy in case the election is not held on time, Khan said it would be a violation of the Constitution and a contempt of court since the Supreme Court had ordered it.

He added that if the election is not held, the constitution and the law would be undermined.

Khan accused the PDM of attempting to disqualify or imprison him in order to win the election. He claimed the nation has turned against the ruling parties, and this is why he was able to win the 2018 election. Now, with historic levels of inflation, their political fortunes have been completely destroyed.

He emphasised that his PTI party wants elections to be held simultaneously, including the National Assembly. He believes that this approach benefits the country, and the people should be allowed to choose their leaders. The incoming government will then have the mandate to address the nation’s chronic problems.

Regarding Pervaiz Elahi’s appointment as party president, Khan said the vice-chairman is the second most important leader in the party. Elahi had remained loyal to the party during challenging times and resisted pressure from powerful institutions.

As a token of appreciation, they had offered him the position of party president.

Must Read

Uzbekistan plans to increase exports of electrical products to Europe, South...

TASHKENT: There are about a thousand manufacturing enterprises operating in the electrical engineering sector of Uzbekistan, most of them small, producing over two thousand...