ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday criticized his predecessor Imran Khan for orchestrating a “foreign-funded” campaign against Pakistan’s army chief, Syed Asim Munir, saying that it is being launched against him by using overseas Pakistanis.
The prime minister’s statement comes a day after hundreds of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters gathered outside the White House in Washington D.C. to protest against what they said were “atrocities” being committed against Khan. In the protest, a PTI leader demanded that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment must realize the “mistake” it is making while another supporter said the military should accept civilian supremacy in the country.
The protest took place a couple of days after clashes between Khan supporters and Punjab police personnel who attempted to arrest the former prime minister outside his Zaman Khan residence in Lahore on court orders.
Munir was appointed army chief by PM Sharif in November last year. The army chief’s appointment became a subject of controversy after Khan — who challenges the legitimacy of the Sharif government — insisted Pakistan’s ruling coalition government should not appoint the new army chief. Rather, he insisted elections be held and a new prime minister should appoint the army chief.
“Campaign against the army chief is intolerable and a continuation of the conspiracy against institutions,” Sharif said in a statement. “Patriotic overseas Pakistan should raise their voices against this foreign-funded campaign,” he said, adding that overseas Pakistanis are being used to spread “toxic politics.”
Sharif appealed to overseas Pakistanis not to fall prey to the alleged conspiracy, adding that Khan was violating the constitution by dragging the heads of institutions in his “dirty politics.”
“The interior minister should deal with iron hands against those who are running dirty campaigns against institutions within the country,” Sharif said. “Strict legal action should be taken against those who instigate chaos, riots, and rebellion in Pakistan.”
The prime minister said a campaign against an army chief, who had been appointed on merit for the first time in Pakistan’s history, could only be the agenda of enemies of the state. “The nation stands with its institutions and is united against miscreants,” he added.
In separate tweets later, PM Sharif accused Khan of orchestrating a “disgusting smear campaign” against Pakistan’s army chief.
“PTI’s disgusting smear campaign against Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir at the behest of Imran Niazi is deserving of the strongest condemnation,” Sharif wrote on Twitter.
In another Twitter post, the premier said Khan is “stooping to unprecedented lows” for power and is undermining Pakistan’s armed forces.
The PTI chairman, who has severely criticized Bajwa and accused him of having a hand in his removal from office in April 2022, has largely refrained from criticizing Munir directly. However, in an interview earlier this month, Khan said he expected Munir’s appointment would “change” his and his party’s fortunes but added that “hardships have increased.”
Pakistan’s military has historically held massive sway in the governance and foreign policy matters of the nuclear-armed South Asian nation. Over the past couple of years, the army, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its 75-year history, has come under intense criticism, arguably unprecedented for the all-powerful institution, particularly for its role in politics.
In his farewell speech, Bajwa said the military had decided in February 2021 to quit any role in Pakistani politics. In a veiled warning to Khan, he also said the military’s patience has limits.