Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan confirmed on Sunday that dialogue was underway with the powers-that-be to find a solution to the political crisis prevailing in the country, following the ouster of the PTI government in April through a no-confidence vote.
The remarks came in response to the statement made by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif wherein he claimed that the government had snubbed an offer by Imran Khan suggesting consensus over the appointment of the new army chief after the retirement of General Qamar Javed Bajwa in November. The offer was rejected by the government, as it was the “prerogative of the prime minister to make such an appointment in light of the Constitution”, said the prime minister in response to a question on Saturday evening.
The PTI chairman resumed his march from Murdike in the morning and halted it near Sadhoki after a reporter identified as Sadaf Naeem fell off the container and was crushed to death. Her death prompted a “shocked” Khan to come down from the container and suspend the journey before reaching its destination in Sadhoki.
Also on Sunday, a police constable, Liaqat Ali, died of cardiac arrest during the march duty near Muridke. He belonged to the Sheikhupura police.
In his speech from atop the container, the ex-premier targeted the incumbent PM and termed him a ‘boot-polisher’ for his purported proximity to the establishment.
Addressing the participants of the long march, the PTI chairman said he did not send an offer to PM Sharif for talks.
“What [power] do you have that I approach you for talks,” the PTI chairman quipped. “I have talked to and am still talking to those, whom you used to visit for meetings in the boot of your vehicle,” Mr Khan said in reference to alleged meetings between Mr Sharif and the establishment.
According to the PTI chairman, his sole demand was new elections and supremacy of law in letter and spirit.
He took the Indian media to task for playing up on his criticism of the establishment. The PTI chairman said he did not criticise the army as an institution but only a few officers for actions they should not have taken. “My criticism is constructive for the army as well as for the country,” he asserted.
Speaking about his political struggle, Mr Khan said he turned PTI into the “single largest political party” at the national level without anyone’s help. He claimed that he never requested anyone in the military establishment to help him come to power.
“I had come to power in 2018 with the support of people…[now I] want free and fair general elections allowing masses to choose their leader and take decisions for their benefit,” he said, adding, “I will accept the decision of the masses.”
In his speech, Imran Khan also warned the military establishment and asked it not to side with ‘crooks’ who were rejected by the masses in 2018 elections.
No one should think that people in Pakistan were “a flock of animals” and could be asked to do anything, said the former premier in a reference to the no-confidence motion which saw his ouster in April. He said people had become aware and they would never accept the “corrupt” ruling elite. Imran Khan reiterated that he was indulging in “positive criticism” of the army officers and added that he wanted the nation to stand by the army to strengthen Pakistan.
Earlier in the day, at least seven persons were reported injured near Muridke on Gujranwala Road after a part of a fibre roof of an underpass came apart. The rescuers took the injured to the nearby hospital. In another incident, PTI workers and supporters reportedly clashed with each other near Muridke, and were seen using batons and chairs at a camp set up to welcome the PTI chairman.
Separately, Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi again confirmed that a backdoor dialogue was underway and added that such dialogues always happened whenever there were long marches.
Sources claimed that Mr Elahi also met some important personalities from Rawalpindi and Islamabad at a ceremony on Baidian Road in Lahore and discussed the speeches being made by Imran Khan in a cordial manner.
On the other hand, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif at a press conference ruled out early elections. He said the assembly will complete its term and denied reports of talks with the PTI.
Mr Asif said the PTI chief will not have any role in the appointment of the army chief as it was a “sole prerogative of the prime minister”.
The defence minister said that the army would send the names of nominees for the slot through the Ministry of Defence and the PM would exercise his constitutional right to make the appointment.
How could Imran Khan advise the government on the issue when he is not even a member of the National Assembly, asked the minister.
He blamed Mr Khan for using the death of slain journalist Arshad Sharif to gain political mileage. The defence minister said that Imran’s statements regarding Sharif’s killing reflected that he had “some evidence” and urged the PTI chief to appear before the commission.
“If he (Imran) doesn’t come himself, he will be called,” he asserted. “I will not go to the extent of saying that he is involved in the crime, but I will say that time will tell who the culprit is,” said Asif.
He criticised Imran Khan for his criticism of the establishment and said India was using statements made by the former premier to churn out propaganda.
“He has provided them with this opportunity. Who is Imran working for in real,” the minister said, adding that institutions wanted to stay “neutral” but the PTI chief called it an “animal” for staying neutral.