ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday came down hard on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan for his "disgusting smear campaign" to tarnish Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir's reputation.
"PTI's disgusting smear campaign against Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir at the behest of Imran Niazi is deserving of the strongest condemnation," the premier tweeted.
The campaign against the COAS was intolerable and the continuation of a conspiracy against the national institutions, according to a PM Office's official statement.
Throwing yet another brickbat at the PTI chairman, the prime minister said: "This man Niazi [Imran Khan] is stooping to unprecedented lows in his desperation for power & going to the extent of damaging the country & undermining our armed forces & their leadership."
Khan, a former cricket star, was prime minister from 2018 until 2022 when he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote. Since then he has been demanding a snap election and holding protest rallies across the country to press his case.
His successor as prime minister, Shehbaz, has rejected his demand and said an election would be held as scheduled later this year.
Khan, 70, is facing several legal cases, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday after a court issued warrants for his arrest for not appearing before it.
The premier urged overseas Pakistanis to raise their voice against the “foreign-funded” campaign. He said as the dirty political game was being played through the expatriates, they should not become part of the conspiracy.
Imran Khan was violating the constitution by dragging the institutions and their leadership into his “dirty” politics, the PM added.
PM Shehbaz also instructed the interior minister to strictly deal with those running such a smear campaign against the institutions.
He also warned of strict legal action against those fanning chaos and subversion in the country.
Clashes between Khan's supporters and the security forces have brought a new round of political chaos to Pakistan, which is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.
Khan says the government and the powerful military are trying to stop him from contesting the next election, scheduled for November. If convicted in a case, Khan could face disqualification from the polls.
Both the government and military deny this.
A campaign against an army chief appointed purely on merit for the first time in the country’s history could only be an agenda of the anti-Pakistan elements, he added.
“The whole nation stands by its institutions and is united against miscreants,” the prime minister remarked.
Countering PM Shehbaz's tweets, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry jumped in to reject the former's claims by saying that such calumnious statements were meant to widen the divide between the people and the army chief for gaining political mileage.
Fawad in a tweet said: "Let me make it clear PTI has nothing to do with any slanderous campaign against Army Chief, rather we expect his good office to play role in normalising Pak politics by helping ECP to hold peaceful and transparent elections."
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