Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday sought to downplay the impression that his party has been accusing the country’s armed forces of “conspiracy” by stressing that “only two” forces were keeping Pakistan united—the PTI and the Army.
Addressing a rally in Jhelum—part of a series of public meetings intended to lay the ground for a planned long march on Islamabad later this month—he rebutted a speech of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in which the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader had accused Khan of maligning the armed forces and trying to drag the Army into politics. Emphasizing that it was PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, PMLN Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, who had been speaking against the Army, he claimed he had always supported the armed forces.
“You, Shehbaz Sharif, are saying that I am speaking against the Army?” he said, as he reiterated allegations that the incumbent premier repeatedly attempted to curry favor with the Army even as his family members criticized it. He also claimed that he had referred to Shehbaz as Mir Jaffar, not the Army. “The British had awarded Mir Jaffar for his betrayal, just like the Americans have rewarded you,” he said.
On Sunday, while addressing a rally in Abbottabad, Khan had narrated the history of Mir Jaffar and Sirajud Daulah, saying that Jaffar had betrayed his ruler while serving as his commander-in-chief. The reference has been widely perceived to be a reference to Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa—a belief supported by the military’s media wing issuing a press release after his speech in which it urged politicians, journalists and analysts to avoid dragging the Army into politics, warning this was “very damaging” to Pakistan. Critics have also noted Khan’s claims that he was referring to Sharif do not make sense, as the incumbent prime minister has never served in the armed forces or acted as “command-in-chief” to Khan.
Following the speech, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning Khan’s speech.
In Tuesday’s speech, Khan repeated his claims of the incumbent government failing to rebut Indian criticism, alleging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “not dared” to speak against the Pakistan Army while he was premier. “Did Nawaz Sharif or Shehbaz Sharif ever speak on Kashmir?” he said, seeking to, falsely, suggest they had ignored the disputed region. A few minutes later, however, Khan praised India’s “independent” foreign policy, claiming no other country meddled in its affairs.
The ousted prime minister also referred to his visit to Russia, saying he had asked President Vladimir Putin to provide Pakistan oil at a cheaper rate. He said the Russian leader had “agreed” to provide oil at a 30% cheaper rate to Pakistan, and claimed that Sharif would not buy this fuel as it would go against the wishes of the U.S. Experts in Pakistan’s petroleum sector, however, have repeatedly noted that Russian oil requires separate refineries due to a higher Sulphur content, which Pakistan lacks, and any deal would have first required the country to set up infrastructure for it.
The PTI chairman also alleged that the “entire” federal cabinet was traveling to London to meet “coward … absconder” Nawaz Sharif. “Nawaz Sharif is a coward and a thief who flees abroad whenever he gets the chance,” he said, claiming this visit was being done at the taxpayers’ expense. Both these claims are false, as only members of the PMLN are traveling to London and Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb has already confirmed it is being paid for privately, with no government involvement.
Referring to the visit, Khan also urged the government to place his name on the Exit Control List (ECL), claiming he had no plans of leaving Pakistan, as “everything” of his was in the country.
While reiterating his allegation of the U.S. funding a “conspiracy” to oust him from power—repeatedly denied by Washington—the ousted premier said that he was glad the “entire nation” had expressed its displeasure at the “imported government.” He said that he had initially called for 2 million people to participate in the long march, but the number of participants at his rallies had convinced him that at least 2.5 million would join him in his fight to secure the people’s mandate through early elections.