ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army said on Wednesday it was time to tighten the “noose of law” against those who had masterminded attacks on military buildings last month, in what is being widely seen as a reference to former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan’s arrest on corruption charges on May 9, which he says was at the behest of top generals in cahoots with the civilian government of PM Shehbaz Sharif — both deny involvement — led to violent nationwide protests, with rioters attacking an air base, military properties, including the army’s headquarters, and burning a top general’s home. Demonstrators also attacked government and private buildings and vehicles.
Since the protests, dozens of members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and hundreds of his supporters have been arrested in what local and international rights bodies have widely called a state crackdown. The army and government have both publicly said the instigators and enactors of the violence would be punished and those who attacked army properties would be tried by military courts. Dozens of arrested suspects have since been handed over to the army for trials.
In a strongly-worded statement released on Wednesday after a meeting of top Pakistani military commanders, the army reiterated that it would punish those who had attacked its properties as well as go after the masterminds of the violence.
“While the legal trials of perpetrators and instigators have commenced, it is time that noose of law is also tightened around the planners and masterminds who mounted the hate ripened and politically driven rebellion against the state and state institutions to achieve their nefarious design of creating chaos in the country,” the army’s media wing, ISPR, said.
“Forum also resolved that endeavours by any quarter to create obstructions and stymie the conclusive defeat of ill design of inimical forces will be dealt with iron hands.”
Responding for the first time to widespread accusations that the army was behind a crackdown against Khan, his party and its supporters and carrying out human rights violations, the army called this “fake news and propaganda” that it would defeat with the support of the Pakistani public:
“Unfounded and baseless allegations on Law Enforcement Agencies and Security Forces for custodial torture, human rights abuses and stifling of political activities are meant to mislead the people and malign Armed Forces in order to achieve trivial vested political interests.”
The army reiterated that those who had damaged military properties would be brought to justice “speedily under the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secret Act which are the derivatives of the Constitution of Pakistan.”
“In this regard, efforts to create distortions and attempts to take refuge behind imaginary and mirage Human Rights Violations to create smoke screen for hiding the ugly faces of all involved, are absolutely futile and do not stand the abundantly collected irrefutable evidences,” ISPR said.
The military’s statement comes as mention of Khan has blacked out on local television, following a directive last week by the national media regulator not to give airtime to “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators.” The directive did not name Khan.
Most newspapers, in which Khan was for years front page news, have also stopped covering him.
Since being ousted from the PM’s office in a no-trust vote in April last year, Khan has launched an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military, which independent analysts say helped him rise and fall from power.
The military has ruled Pakistan directly or indirectly for most of its 75-year history but says it no longer interferes in political affairs.