ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had hatched a “conspiracy” to pit his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party against the country’s army.
Khan’s comments come after his chief of staff, Dr. Shahbaz Gill, was arrested on Tuesday over comments in a TV show advising army officers not to follow the orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.” The government and the national media regulator, PEMRA, have said the remarks were tantamount to inciting mutiny within the Pakistan army. The TV channel on which Gill made the comments, ARY News, has also since been taken off air by PEMRA.
Khan was ousted from power in April in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that he blames on a foreign conspiracy hatched by the United States in collaboration with rival politicians. Both deny the charge. Khan and his supporters have also variously expressed disappointment that the military and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa did not support him against the alleged foreign plot.
Following Khan’s ouster, anti-army trends have become a common occurrence on social media. A hashtag calling for Bajwa to step down as army chief regularly trends online and recently, a smear campaign was also launched against military officers who died in a helicopter crash last week. The government has announced a probe into the campaign.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Khan dismissed claims his party was against the military, and said the impression was being created as part of a “plot” to decimate the PTI. He also did not distance his party from, or condemn, the comments by Gill.
“The party is at the federal level, it is in all the provinces, the largest vote bank is of this party … it is the largest party in Pakistan right now,” Khan said in a televised address. “A conspiracy is being hatched and it is being hatched by those people who are involved in the foreign conspiracy, collaborators … It is being portrayed that we and the army are against each other.”
He added: “This conspiracy is so dangerous that if we try to pit the largest political party of a country against its army and it creates differences within, nothing else can harm the country as much.”
Khan then gave the example of 1971 when, as per his account, differences between the largest political party in East Pakistan at the time and the country’s military led to a war that saw the break up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
“Attempts are being made to break the biggest party of the country, they are also trying to break our people so that they [PTI] become so weak by the [next] elections,” the ex-PM said.
Khan’s party is also facing legal challenges currently, with Pakistan’s top election body ruling last week on an 8-year-old case against the PTI, saying the party received millions of dollars in illegal funds from foreign countries including the United States, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and Australia. The party denies any wrongdoing.
The Election commission has issued a notice to Khan and ordered him to appear personally on August 23 at the hearing of what is popularly known as the “foreign funding case.”
Earlier on Wednesday the PTI challenged the Election Commission’s ruling in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), seeking a cancelation of the order.
The ECP’s verdict could lead to a ban on Khan and his PTI which rose to prominence on an anti-corruption agenda.