Imran Khan in Islamabad. (AFP)
Islamabad, Sept. 2: Imran Khan, the Pakistani Opposition leader, plotted with army chiefs to oust the country’s elected Prime Minister, his own party president claimed yesterday.
Javed Hashmi, president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), said his leader had told him he was co-ordinating anti-government protests with the army and that there would be fresh elections later in September, secured with the help of a friendly member of the country’s Supreme Court.
His accusation, in a newsconference in the capital Islamabad — where hours earlier hundreds of Khan’s supporters briefly seized the headquarters of the state broadcaster, Pakistan TV — caused a sensation and brought a strong denial from the former Pakistan cricket captain.
It followed claims that the army had suggested to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, that he step down for a month to allow an inquiry team to investigate claims by Khan that last year’s general election contest was rigged.
Both the army and the government denied that such a suggestion had been made.
The country — which has endured three successful coups and four periods of military rule — has been in political turmoil since Khan led an estimated 70,000 supporters on a march from Lahore to Islamabad two weeks ago, and although their number has since dwindled the capital remains paralysed, with schools and offices closed.
Speculation has grown in recent weeks over Khan’s links with the army since the government’s information minister alleged the former head of the country’s ISI intelligence agency was advising him on strategy for his protests.
Suspicions of military support for Khan were fuelled over the weekend when the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, who is not related to the Prime Minister, called on the government as well as protesters to avoid the use of force. The Prime Minister’s supporters said the army chief’s “even-handed” approach had undermined any attempt to restore normality.
Hashmi’s claims, which appeared to reinforce such suspicions, came in an emotional statement outside Pakistan’s Parliament House.
He said Khan had told him that “the badge bearers” [army] had urged him and his supporters to join forces with those of Tahir ul-Qadri to march on the capital.
“Imran Khan said we can’t move forward without the army... Imran Khan also said that all the matters had been decided and there will be elections in September,” he said.
“It won’t be called martial law... we will file a petition in the Supreme Court and get a judge of our choosing and he will say OK, they will get rid of the government,” he added.
Shireen Mazari, Imran Khan’s spokesman, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said if Hashmi had believed them he should have resigned. “The fact is that there was no such talk in any meeting nor is there any such covert agenda,” she said.
Three persons died and several hundred were injured in clashes between protesters and police over the weekend after Khan’s and Qadri’s supporters marched on Sharif’s official residence.
The violence continued when an estimated 400 protesters seized the state broadcaster’s English language studios. “They have stormed the PTV office. PTV staff performing their duties are being beaten up,” the announcer said.