ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday lashed out at opposition leader Nawaz Sharif over his recent comments against the country’s military leadership, saying it would now be his “utmost effort” to bring the former prime minister back to Pakistan to face jail.
Khan was addressing a convention of the Tiger Force, a million-strong task force of young volunteers set up to facilitate official coronavirus relief efforts, which has been put to work in aid of other government departments.
At a protest rally in the eastern city of Gujranwala in the early hours of Saturday, Sharif, who addressed tens of thousands of people via video link from London, accused the army chief of “packing up” his government. The military has consistently denied meddling in politics.
Sharif’s second term as prime minister ended when his government was toppled in a military coup in 2000. He was prime minister for a third term from 2013 to 2017, when he was removed by the Supreme Court amid corruption revelations over his personal wealth.
He was subsequently convicted of graft but says the accusations are politically motivated. On Oct. 25 last year, Sharif was granted bail and got court clearance to leave the country for medical treatment in London.
“From today it will be my utmost effort that you (Sharif) be brought back to this country,” Khan said to a charged crowd. “And you will be kept in a regular jail, not a VIP jail … You come back and I’ll see how we keep you.”
Addressing Sharif’s remarks against the military, Khan referred to two separate attacks on military convoys this week, in which 20 people, including 13 soldiers, were killed.
“Attacks are being carried out against our soldiers, our soldiers are sacrificing their lives,” he said.
“Why are they sacrificing their lives? It’s for us and this country. And this jackal (Sharif), who ran from here, is sitting there (in London) used this language against our army chief and the DG ISI (intelligence chief),” Khan said, as the crowd rang out in angry cheers.
“The opposition is going to see a different Imran Khan now,” the PM added, dismissing the Gujranwala rally as a “circus.”
Last month, nine major opposition parties formed the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) to launch countrywide protests aimed at forcing Khan to resign and call early elections. The first rally was held in Gujranwala on Friday evening. Rallies are also planned for Karachi and Quetta later this month.
Sharif’s daughter and political heir-apparent, Maryam Nawaz, also addressed the gathering, saying no one should be allowed to oust the country’s democratically elected leaders.
“Governments should come through your vote,” she told thousands of people gathered at a stadium in Gujranwala, “and nobody else should have the right to dislodge an elected administration. You’ve to do the accountability, and if somebody else does this, then you should have to deal with them.
“When the vote is not honored, then the public has to suffer like you are suffering today. Imran Khan has been trumpeting about corruption, but you all will be shocked when stories of his corruption come out in the public.”
The Pakistan Muslim League vice president also criticized the prime minister for making repeated statements that his government and state institutions were on the same page, saying: “Let me remind you that it doesn’t take much time to turn over the page.”
The PDM rally was also attended by the top Pakistan People's Party leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who focused on rising inflation and criticized the government’s economic policies.
“People are worried, and the economy has nosedived,” he said. “Is this the change the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party promised? The change is that unemployment, inflation and poverty have hit a historic high today.”
He also alleged that a one-sided accountability drive was being carried out in the country.
“We want an end to corruption, equality of law and accountability. You can hold former presidents and prime ministers accountable, but there should also be accountability of judges and generals on corruption charges,” he maintained.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam party and the president of the opposition PDM alliance also spoke on occasion, predicting a political change in the country in the foreseeable future.
“The days of fake rulers are numbered as all democratic forces of Pakistan have launched the movement,” he said. “The rulers will not be in power until December this year.”
“Our struggle will continue until the supremacy of the constitution and apology of the institutions,” he added.
“Countries are run through responsibility and commitment, not through confrontation, and we will achieve that target by making collective effort.”
The government formally announced that the opposition alliance could hold its gatherings at specifically designated spots. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz said the PTI administration had allowed the rallies as “protest is the right of every political party.”
Khan’s PTI party swept to power in August 2018 after defeating all major opposition parties. The opposition alliance says the party won a rigged election, which Khan’s government denies.
The next general election is scheduled for 2023.