Buoyed by poll success, Imran admits ‘backchannel’ is open

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who had hitherto held his cards close to his chest regarding backdoor talks with the establishment to break the political impasse, on Monday acknowledged that the dialogue with powerful quarters was underway.

The former premier made these remarks while respon­ding to questions regarding the ambiguity surrounding the talks with the powers-that-be and the reports of an alleged meeting of the PTI chief with ‘four senior-most army generals’ following his resounding victory in the by-polls on Sunday.

The PTI chairman did not respond to the question abo­ut the reported meeting with the generals, but in his comments about the dialogue, he said, “Negotia­tions, what should I say… [t]hey are happening and not happening. Whatever little we have done over backchannels, there is no clarity as yet.”

Mr Khan, however, blamed Nawaz Sharif for this lack of clarity during a press talk at his Banigala residence. “I know why that clarity is not there, because Nawaz Sharif is afraid of elections. Unless he decides, elections will not take place. He is afraid that if all parties ganged up couldn’t defeat [me], if elections are held they will lose. He wants to drag this on, no matter if the country goes to the dogs,” the former premier alleged.

The PML-N supremo wanted to delay polls because of the PTI’s increasing popularity, the PTI chairman said, adding: “He [Nawaz] wants that if this can be dragged on, PTI’s wave can be quelled. The wave is rising, but he wants the wave to go down. Until then, he is not concerned about what happens to the country.”

This is the first time Mr Khan has explicitly mentioned talks with the powers-that-be, as, during his earlier interactions with the media, he had merely dropped hints about the existence of these negotiations.

It seems the decision to go public with this backchannel dialogue was taken by the PTI chief on the back of the thumping victory in the by-polls held on Sunday, which boosted the morale of the PTI which had termed these elections a “referendum” against the ‘imported government’.

In a further jibe at the PML-N leader, Imran Khan said, “Mr Sharif cannot contest election while having neutral umpires. On the other hand, I am the one who has always supported neutral umpires. I assume that Nawaz Sharif will get a clean chit as his party has also received NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance]. So, I am ready to contest the election against him as I have never played matches with weak teams…”

Speaking about the appointment of the army chief, Imran Khan said the new chief of army staff should be appointed on merit and added that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari were not fit to appoint the army chief because of corruption cases against them.

He ruled out the possibility of dialogue with the government, saying “this is very hard to do as you can talk to Baloch and Sindhi nationalists, but not with criminals”, Dawn.com quoted him as saying.

By-polls victory

Imran Khan, who contested seven out of eight National Assembly seats, also talked about the victory of the PTI in the by-polls. He managed to win six seats while losing the Karachi seat in Malir to the PPP candidate. However, Mr Khan said that he would move the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against his defeat, claiming that there was ample proof of rigging. If elections could be held in Daska over complaints of riggings in 22 out of 400 polling stations then they could be held in Malir as well, he added.

Buoyed by his victory in the election, Imran Khan claimed that ‘13 political parties’ were united against the PTI but they still failed to win despite the fact that people were aware that the PTI will not go to parliament. “I would say it was a referendum against the government,” he said while talking about the by-polls.

Long march

Speaking about the long march, the PTI chief said a meeting of the senior party leadership was held wherein it was decided to announce the date of the much-hyped march later this month and a strategy had been formulated in case the government used force against PTI protesters.

“I am giving them (government) time just for the sake of the country,” he said. “I repeat that they still have time to announce elections, and if they don’t, I will begin my march, and my preparations are almost complete.”

In a reference to the previous long march by the PTI in May this year, the PTI chairman said that on May 25 the PTI was going to hold a peaceful march but it was derailed by the government through the use of violence. “However, this time we will be prepared to deal with violence,” he warned.

‘Attempts to please COAS’

In a thinly veiled reference, Mr Khan also criticised the intelligence agencies for their alleged involvement in the arrest of PTI leaders, most recently Senator Azam Swati. “Since the appointment of a person in Islamabad, leaders of PTI are being picked and subjected to sexual torture,” he said, claiming that these measures against the PTI were being taken by the unnamed person to ‘please the army chief’.

The PTI chief claimed initially his close aide Shahbaz Gill was picked in a sedition case and after that Azam Swati was whisked away in front of his grandchildren and later handed over to intelligence agencies.

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