Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday heaped praise on Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, calling him a “sensible man” who believed in democracy.
In an interview with a private TV channel, Imran revealed that there was “a lot of anger” in the military over former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s diatribe against the top military leadership but added that Gen Bajwa was tolerating it for the sake of democracy.
“There is a reaction within the army to these sorts of attacks [by Sharif]. Gen Bajwa is a sensible man. He is [a] composed [person], therefore he is tolerating this. Had there been anyone else in the military, there would have been a big reaction,” Imran said in the interview.
Sharif, the supreme leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), had been using the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) platform to criticise the military in recent months. Imran said that the speeches were a ploy to pressure the military into removing a democratic government.
“They are saying that Imran Khan is a stooge and we are talking to the establishment. It means that they are exerting pressure on the army to dislodge a democratic government. This is [their] democratic movement,” the prime minister said.
“Pakistan army is a state institution. They are subordinate to me. The Pakistan army is not sitting above me. I’m an elected prime minister of Pakistan. Has anyone heard this in any democracy in the world that my subordinate institution removes me,” he added.
When asked if he was satisfied with the performance of the army chief Gen Bajwa and the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, the prime minister replied: “I’m absolutely happy with them,” adding: “We have excellent relationship.”
The prime minister said that Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Zardari had problems with the military because the military knew about their corruption. On a personal note, he said “when they [agencies] knew about me everything then I have nothing to hide”.
Responding to another question, whether the government would engage the opposition in dialogue, he said the entire assembly is there and “we are ready for talks” but hastened to add that the opposition was interested in something else.
“They [the opposition leaders] are thinking that by these dramas they could scare me and get an NRO,” he said, referring to the political amnesty granted by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf through the now-defunct National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2007.
“They (are) appealing to the military to remove the government, a democratic government. Secondly, they are saying that if the army chief and the ISI chief do not remove me, then they are telling the army to remove them,” Imran said, adding: “Article 6 of the Constitution [high treason] applies here.”
The prime minister said that the PDM was being supported by anti-democratic forces such as Hussain Haqqani. “Why is Nawaz so popular in India? He has become a hero there. He is doing what India is doing. Degrading Pakistan, destroying economy,” he said.
He said that the PDM’s announcement of long march was hollow. “I'm the long march specialist. I challenge them to spend at least a week in Islamabad for their protests. Maybe, then I can start thinking about my resignation seriously,” he said.
Imran said that there were two ways to bring Nawaz Sharif back from London, extradition and deportation, and his government was trying for the second option. He said that extradition was a long process. However, he added he was not sure when the government would succeed in this regard.
When asked for the reason for the government decision to hold Senate elections earlier, and whether it was because of the PDM resignation threat, the prime minister rebutted the claim, saying that it was the discretion of the government to decide when to hold the elections.
“We have a margin of one month, according to the Constitution,” he said. “The elections will be held through the process of open ballot, which will ensure votes are not sold,” he continued. “Horse-trading has happened before and this is why we kicked out 20 lawmakers” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the last time.
Explaining as to why the issue was not taken up in parliament, the prime minister said that the attorney general had advised him that it required only a constitutional amendment. “But despite this, we will go to the Supreme Court to ask it to interpret the law for us,” he added.
Imran Khan said that Pakistan would not recognise Israel until Palestinian rights were guaranteed. He rebutted reports claiming that government representatives flew to Tel Aviv to hold talks with Israel. He termed the reports part of a wider disinformation campaign carried out by India.
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