Former prime minister Imran Khan’s aggressive political rhetoric is an attempt at garnering greater popular support
ormer prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman, Imran Khan, has refused to scale down his campaigning effort or abandon his aggressive political rhetoric in view of the devastating floods in the country.
Khan has also shown no aversion to courting more controversy by making all kinds of statements about various national institutions, including the military and the judiciary.
On September 8, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) also decided to indict Khan in contempt of court proceedings against him for threatening Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry. The verdict was issued by a five-member bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar. Charges against the former prime minister will be framed on September 22 at 2:30pm.
These days, Khan, who is contesting by-elections to nine National Assembly constituencies, is addressing public rallies in various districts of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Given the frequency of his claims, some of the PTI leader’s controversial statements are being treated by many as a new ‘normal’.
Some of his political allies have, however, had to distance themselves from these statements. Both President Arif Alvi and Chief Minister Parvez Elahi have recently issued statements diverging from Khan’s line.
Last week, one such statement garnered strong reactions. During his rally in Faisalabad, Khan claimed that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leaders wanted to appoint ‘their own man’ as the army chief. “They want to bring their own army chief. They are afraid that if a strong and patriotic army chief is appointed, he would ask them about the looted wealth. They are (continuing) in the government because they want to bring in an army chief of their choice. Whoever is on the top of the merit list should be appointed to head the institution,” Khan said.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) reacted by stating that it was “aghast at the defamatory and uncalled for” statement. “Regrettably, an attempt has been made to discredit and undermine [the] senior leadership of [the] Pakistan Army at a time when the institution is laying down lives for the security and safety of the people of Pakistan every day. Senior politicians trying to stir controversy regarding the appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS), the procedure for which is well defined in the constitution, is most unfortunate and disappointing.”
The ISPR went on to say that the army’s senior leadership had a decades-long, impeccable and meritorious service to prove its patriotic and professional credentials beyond any doubt. “Politicising the senior leadership of Pakistan Army and scandalising the process of selection of [the] COAS is neither in the interest of the state of Pakistan nor of the institution. Pakistan Army reiterates its commitment to uphold the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” the statement concluded.”
Sensing the gravity of the situation, President Arif Alvi distanced himself from the statement. While talking to reporters at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor’s House, President Alvi said: “The entire military and the army chief are true patriots. Their loyalty is beyond doubt. Whoever makes such remarks should explain himself.”
On the other hand, the PDM leaders criticised Khan in strong terms. In a joint statement, the PDM said that Khan had tried to make sensitive professional matters unnecessarily controversial. “The entire nation is battling with floods but [the] egoistic Imran Khan is trying to drive a wedge between armed forces and the masses. The country cannot be left at the mercy of [such] an arrogant and fascist man,” the statement added.
Speaking at a public ceremony in Lahore, Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi said: “Those who talk against the army are enemies of the nation and our religion. I have seen Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. He has rendered great services for the country and Islam.”
However, some PTI leaders jumped in to defend Khan. In a tweet, Shireen Mazari, the former federal minister, said: “Chairman PTI’s statement was about merit & merit in the selection of COAS cannot be made by two criminals whose only priority is to save their billions stashed abroad & who have zero credibility. Remember Dawn Leaks & Memogate? Or the many public statements of PMLN, PPP, JUIF.”
Fawad Chaudhry, another former federal minister, said: “It is not correct to link IK’s statement with the army and military leadership. In fact, IK referred to Asif Zardari and Sharifs who have assets beyond means abroad.”
On the other hand, the PDM leaders criticised Khan in strong terms. In a joint statement, the PDM said that Khan had tried to make sensitive professional matters unnecessarily controversial.
“The entire nation is battling with floods but [the] egoistic Imran Khan is trying to drive a wedge between armed forces and the masses. The country cannot be left at the mercy of [such] an arrogant and fascist man,” the statement added.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said Khan’s campaign to defame state institutions and spread hatred against them was reaching a new extreme every day.
“The PTI chairman is now resorting to direct mudslinging and making toxic allegations against the armed forces and their leadership on sensitive professional matters. Imran Khan’s agenda is to stoke anarchy and weaken the country.”
Former president Asif Ali Zardari said: “The entire nation knows by now who the real fitna in this country is. The PPP leader said that Khan’s speech had exposed him before the nation. The PTI is staging public rallies at a time when the entire nation is trying to help the flood victims.”
Later, addressing a rally in Peshawar, Khan tried to defend his statement. He said that the ruling parties were “a group of thieves who want to create disharmony between the PTI and the army”. “My criticism of the army is positive and from the point of view of reform. I talk about appointing the army chief on merit, so what is wrong with it?”
He claimed that his statement was distorted by the media cell of the ruling parties to create a clash between the PTI and the army to benefit “these thieves”.
Khan has not specifically pressed for seniority to be the determinant in the appointment of the COAS. He simply says that the current rulers should not have the right to make the important appointment because they are “thieves”. He wants the privilege of appointing the next army chief returned to him so that he can bring in an army chief of his choice on “merit”.
During a hearing against the PEMRAs order prohibiting live broadcast of Khan’s speeches on TV channels, Islamabad High Court’s Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked Khan’s lawyer: “Did you hear Imran Khan’s speech from yesterday? Do political leaders deliver such speeches? Will everything be put at stake for the sake of a Game of Thrones?”
It appears that Khan has sensed that while he is popular, he no longer enjoys the support of the state institutions. In desperation and showing a sense of entitlement, he is trying to win back the support he has lost. However, he may in fact be courting more trouble.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher