The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s rising popularity continues to be countered with fresh allegations of party chief Imran Khan’s links with the country’s powerful military establishment.
A leading British newspaper claimed on Sunday that Imran recently met US Ambassador Cameron Munter in the presence of ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha – a report strongly denied by the military, as well as the PTI.
Quoting sources, The Sunday Times alleged that Imran was introduced to Munter in Pasha’s presence, adding that the PTI chief is supported by the Pakistani intelligence agency and military. However, a spokesman for the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Monday that the report was “totally baseless and concocted”.
‘An open secret’
According to the report, Imran is said to have gained the backing of the establishment, which has grown tired of the corruption pervading the two traditional political groupings – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
“Although they do not publicly admit to favouring any party, it is an open secret that the military leadership, and the powerful ISI, is backing Imran Khan’s campaign,” it said.
The report further stated although Imran is reluctant to criticise the military establishment publicly, he emphasises that he will not be a puppet of the generals. “Obviously you have to work with them but it doesn’t mean you have to work under them,” Imran was quoted as telling The Times.
The report went on to talk about “the perils of upsetting the army,” while referring to the memogate scandal and Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani’s involvement.
Mentioning the PPP’s unpopularity with the military, the newspaper said that “reports that several generals had snubbed a state banquet before tense meetings with Zardari added to speculation that the PPP has fallen from favour with the military”.
PTI blames PML-N for ‘fabricated propaganda’
A senior official confirmed to The Sunday Times that Imran had the support of the army, but said his rise would cause more political damage to “Sharif, the opposition leader and an outspoken military critic, than to the ruling PPP”.
The report also mentioned the PML-N’s allegations of Imran’s links with the establishment by quoting Nawaz Sharif’s claim last week that “hidden hands” were propping Imran Imran up.
However, the PTI, while refuting The Sunday Times report, issued a strong-worded denial on Monday, blaming the PML-N for what it called ‘fabricated propaganda’.
In a statement released from the PTI’s office in Islamabad, the party’s secretary general Dr Arif Alvi said that this news item is “totally fabricated and false”.
“[The report] appears to be an attempt to provide support to the false propaganda unleashed by the PML-N and its coterie that PTI had the support of the establishment,” he stated in the press release.
The statement added that the allegation is an attempt to divert people’s attention from the “fast-declining popularity” of the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) because of the “failure of its government in Punjab and its anti-people policies”.
“Its failed rallies in Lahore and Faisalabad had driven it to desperation and it is venting its venom on PTI,” he said, adding that the PML-N leadership has become “Imranophobic”.
Alvi reiterated that they were sending a strong letter to The Sunday Times to retract the falsehood, “otherwise we reserve the right to claim damages in a court of law”.
‘Public frustration cause of Imran’s popularity’
The Sunday Times also suggested in its report that the PTI chief’s popularity can be attributed to the public’s frustration and went on to quote Imran: “In recent years, never have the people of Pakistan faced such corruption, lawlessness, lack of governance — it’s total chaos,” he said in an interview last week.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2011.