Imran Khan on Friday said he will remain “silent” as he does not want to “damage” the country and its institutions, a day after the ISI chief said the former prime minister made a “lucrative offer” to Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in return for backing his government during the political turmoil in March this year.
Addressing his party supporters at Lahore’s famous Liberty Chowk after launching his protest march towards Islamabad demanding early elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief said his march is not for politics or personal interest but to gain real freedom and ensure that all decisions were made in Pakistan and not in London or Washington.
“My only aim is to free my nation and turn Pakistan into a free country,” Khan, standing atop a container, said.
Khan rejected ISI chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum’s allegations in an unprecedented press conference on Thursday, saying it was one-sided and he only “talked about Iman Khan” and never uttered a word against the “thieves” in the government.
“DG ISI, listen carefully, the things I know, I am staying silent for my institutions and the country. I don’t want to damage my country,” the PTI chief said as the crowd cheered.
“Our criticism is for constructive purposes and for your improvement. I can say more but will not say as it will hurt the institution,” he said.
Lt Gen Anjum on Thursday said that Army chief Gen Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” by the then government amidst the political turmoil in March. Gen. Bajwa is scheduled to retire next month after a 3-year extension.
The unprecedented press conference by the spy chief came as the country was grappling with different versions about the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and indirect allegations against the armed forces. Sharif was shot dead at a police checkpoint at an hour’s distance from Nairobi on Sunday night, creating a storm in the country.
The Kenyan police later said it was a case of “mistaken identity” during a search for a similar car involved in a child abduction case.
Addressing his supporters, Khan said that, unlike Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, he was “not a runaway that would either sit quietly here or criticise the military in London”.
“I am not going to leave this country. I will live and die in this country,” added the PTI chief.
“If the handlers and facilitators of the thieves of this imported government think that they (government) should be accepted by us, then listen, this nation will give every sacrifice but will never accept these thieves,” he said.
Khan also promised that the march would be peaceful. “Our march will be according to the law, we will not break any rule. We will not enter the (high security) Red Zone and will only go to the areas which have been designated by the Supreme Court for protests,” he said.
He also alleged that the Supreme Court failed to protect his supporters’ constitutional right during the protest on May 25 but hoped that “this time our rights will be protected”.
Khan, 70, plans to arrive in Islamabad on November 4 and has sought formal permission from the government to allow his party to hold a protest rally. His party has billed the protest as a ‘Haqiqi Azadi March’ or a protest for actual freedom of the country.
It is not clear if he would go back after the rally or transform it into a sit-in on the pattern of his 2014 protest when a 126-day sit-in was staged by his followers in front of the parliament building.
The government rejected the march and Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the nation had refused to be subservient to a “foreign-funded” instigator and had rejected the “bloody march”.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah during a press conference flanked by officials of the Federal Investigation Agency in Islamabad, said that Khan tried to “threaten” the government and institutions to “get a date for elections” but failed in this regard.
The minister said that after all of the PTI chief’s tactics failed, he has now resorted to holding a long march.
“He made many speeches and used the word ‘neutral’. But when all this failed, he had no option left but to try something else,” Sanaullah said.
He warned that “strict action will be taken if they attempt to break the law and create a law and order situation in the capital.” Sanaullah added that if PTI stood by its commitment to stay within the places permitted by the Supreme Court, no one would stop them from exercising its democratic right.
Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman has alleged that Khan considers himself to be “above the law and Constitution” as she accused the PTI chief of feeding people lies.
Rehman said that Imran was a “fascist” who considered himself to be the “king”. “This is why he leads people towards violence,” she added.
PTI secretary general Asad Umar earlier told the media in Lahore that the protest would be peaceful. He said that the party decided to dedicate the march to killed journalist Sharif.
The country was grappling with different versions about the killing of journalist Sharif in Kenya and indirect allegations against the armed forces.
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the PTI’s long march only had one agenda — fresh elections.
The PTI leader told Dawn News that the people of Pakistan wanted new elections to be held. “People have come out in hundreds and thousands. This is our struggle for real freedom,” he said.
He told the “handlers” of the incumbent government that they were facing a “flood of people” against which none could stand.
“Their handlers, listen carefully. This is a flood of people and none can stand against it,” he said while addressing the protesters as his march reached Ichhra in Lahore.
During a short pitstop in Lahore’s Ichhra, Khan delivered another fiery speech, this time targeting the government.
“They steal money, go abroad, come back after receiving an NRO and then return [to power] again,” Khan said from atop his container as Shah Mahmood Qureshi stood behind him.
“What do they think of us? That we are bher bakriyan (fools)? Those who have stolen billions from our country and live in palaces in London are made prime minister,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has directed television channels not to live telecast programmes and other content, particularly while covering PTI leaders’ speeches and the long march.
The Pemra said while monitoring Friday’s transmission, it was observed during a speech “statements against state institutions were aired live” in violation of the code of conduct and court orders.
It directed television channels to refrain from “airing content that [is] tantamount to malign/ disgrace state institutions (advertently or inadvertently) and to sensitise their editorial boards, directors (new and programming), bureaus and field reporters to comply with these directives.
Legal action, leading to suspensions and revocation of licences, would be initiated in case of non-compliance, Pemra warned.
Khan has been demanding early elections and threatening a protest march towards Islamabad to force his demands if the government failed to give a date for elections. The term of the National Assembly will end in August 2023 and fresh elections should be held within 60 days.
Khan, who was ousted from power in April after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, has talked about a ‘threat letter’ from the US and claimed that it was part of a foreign conspiracy to remove him as he was not acceptable for following an independent foreign policy. The US has bluntly rejected the allegations.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)