Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who was ousted as prime minister in a vote of no-confidence last week, said he will “never” accept the new “imported” government and vowed to “force” early general elections through mass protest nationwide.
“My youth, get ready! I will be out on the streets with you in every city until we force them [government] to hold elections,” he told a charged crowd of supporters in Peshawar from where the PTI said it was launching its “freedom” movement. “Today marks the beginning of the struggle to find actual freedom,” he added.
“Whenever a prime minister of Pakistan was removed [in the past], people used to distribute sweets. But I am thankful to God that I was removed and you all came and gave me such respect,” he said. “Pakistan has now become a nation. Whoever thought that an imported government of the U.S. would be accepted by this nation was [proven wrong]. The entire nation gave their answer that the imported government stands rejected,” he said, referring to nationwide protests on Sunday that attracted thousands.
Urging “my nation” to choose whether they wanted slavery or liberty, he said: “Do we want to be the slaves of the U.S. or do we want real freedom?”
Taking aim at the incumbent government, he claimed it was full of individuals out on bail. “Shahbaz Sharif is out on bail, his son is out on bail, Nawaz Sharif is a convict, and his son is an absconder in London and the same is the case with his sons, daughter and son-in-law,” he said. Apart from Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, none of the other people Khan named are in government.
The ousted prime minister said Americans had “disrespected” Pakistan by “imposing outlaws” on the nation. “I will go to every city of the country … they have never seen the kind of public mobility that I will lead,” he said, and accused P.M. Sharif of being involved in corruption worth Rs. 40 billion.
“Everyone should know this is not the Pakistan of the 1970s when the U.S. conspired to remove Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,” he said, though Bhutto was ousted by then-Army chief Ziaul Haq and subsequently executed by the courts. “The Pakistan of today is of social media. The country has 60 million mobile phones. All our youth now have a voice and no one can zip their mouths,” he said, even though the PTI-led government had sought to stifle dissent by introducing laws that would imprison anyone even accused of “maligning” any state institution or individual.
Formally announcing that he would stage his next rally in Karachi on Saturday (April 16), Khan urged his supporters to attend in large numbers and take to the streets nationwide to express their outrage at the incumbent government.
Questions for judiciary
During his speech, the PTI chairman took special aim at the judiciary, asking it to explain why it had opened its doors at midnight on Saturday in what was perceived as the Supreme Court taking steps to ensure its ruling to proceed with the vote of no-confidence was fulfilled.
“My dear judges, my judiciary, I have spent time in jail because of your freedom because I dream that one day the judiciary would stand with the weak people of the society, and not the powerful,” he said. “I ask the judiciary that when you opened the court in the dead of night … this nation has known me for 45 years. Have I ever broken the law? When I played cricket, did anyone every accuse me of match fixing?” he said, despite the court ruling that Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri’s dismissal of the vote of no-confidence, allegedly at the behest of Khan, was an “unconstitutional” act.
“During my 25 years of politics, I have never provoked the public against state institutions or the judiciary because my life and death is in Pakistan. I ask you, what crime had I exactly committed that you opened up the courts at midnight?” Khan continued.
Addressing Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Khan told him to stop the harassment of PTI supporters. “This crackdown that you’re doing against our youth over social media … the day we give the call, you would not find a place to hide,” he warned. He also asked the security establishment if it was so sure the country’s nuclear assets would be safe under the leadership of the Sharif-led government.
Prior to Khan’s speech, senior PIT leaders, including Ali Amin Gandapur, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pervez Khattak, Qasim Suri, and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid also addressed the crowds.
Responding to Khan’s speech, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the PTI chief for criticizing the country’s judiciary. In a posting on Twitter, he said that Suri, President Arif Alvi, and Khan had all violated the constitution by trying to dismiss the vote of no-confidence.
“[Khan as P.M.] tried to exploit the National Security Committee for political gains. Institutions now neutral; Imran will not find anywhere to hide,” he said.
Separately, PMLN spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that Khan should recall that he had committed a heinous offense by violating the Constitution. “You held 22 million people of Pakistan and the Constitution hostage for days, for which you deserve punishment under Article 6,” she said, referring to the constitutional clause dealing with treason.
Claiming that the PTI government’s corruption would come to light shortly, she said the PTI’s “reality” had been exposed in the ongoing foreign funding case.