• PTI chief urges generals to backtrack on support for PML-N government • Says there is a rift between people, army will only weaken the institution • Says that he never ordered the kidnapping of journalists, curbs the media
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani President Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan on Saturday lamented the imbalance in civil-military relations, accusing previous PPP and PML-N governments of giving space to the military to “save their own skins” in corruption cases.
The former prime minister made the remarks at a free speech seminar, a day before crucial by-elections in Punjab, where his party is vying for 20 seats in the Punjab Assembly across the province .
“Because of this imbalance, a situation has developed which [now] the establishment does not realize [the consequences of] the actions he commits,” he said, while referring to a crackdown on his party after he was ousted following the no-confidence motion.
“We can’t afford a weak army…we have to protect it. If the distance between the army and the public continues to increase, which it is, it will end up hurting the army and Pakistan.
According to Mr. Khan, democracy depended on “moral strength” and not on physical strength, which he said the Pakistani army possesses.
The PTI leader also urged the establishment to do an about face in supporting the incumbent government. He said Pakistan was at a critical moment and it was very important that the “right decisions” were taken today.
Mr Khan said strengthening a “failing” government would further widen the gap between the people and the establishment. He added, however, that the establishment should differentiate between constructive and damaging criticism.
The PTI President questioned whether the decision taken by the military establishment “behind closed doors” to support the regime in power was beneficial for Pakistan. “Who told them that the decision [to back PML-N] was a better option? Mr Khan said ‘U-turns are even important for generals’ because no one could be absolutely right.
“The nation is looking to the establishment because they have power,” Khan said and warned that the current setup would destabilize Pakistan politically and economically.
The former prime minister also spoke about the enforced disappearances and repression of journalists under his rule and said his government had nothing to do with the deportations of people or the restrictions imposed on the media.
“I have never been afraid of the media… [I] was the most criticized PM… [yet] I never tried to bribe journalists or take action against them,” the former prime minister added. He said “constructive criticism” was needed.
“The trend of people going missing started during the war on terror. I was the first person to protest against this practice in 2003 after the disappearance of Aafia Siddiqui. I did not know the army’s point of view until I came to power,” Khan said, adding that he used to speak out against these enforced disappearances because “there is no nothing is more painful” than to see the loved ones of the missing people come to ask about their loved ones.
“We came to the government and learned that often people were arrested [the pretext of] national security.”
Mr Khan said he spoke to the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, when General Faiz Hamid was the head of the ISI, which led to the release of many forcibly missing people.
“They [army] said the problem was with the justice system,” he said, adding that the explanation given to him was that it was difficult to prosecute a terrorist in court due to a lack of evidence or of witnesses.
Nevertheless, he said, an agreement was reached and his government was working on a bill that would have, at least, kept the families of the missing persons informed.
Imran Khan also distanced his government from kidnapping journalists under the rule of the PTI government. “Shireen [Mazari] knows, he came to the firm three or four times when a journalist was arrested; no journalist was arrested on my instructions, [as] the problem was something else,” Mr. Khan added.
‘Vile campaigns by PTI’
Challenging Mr Khan’s position that there were no restrictions on the press during his tenure, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said there were reports of restrictions imposed on the press at the time of the PTI, adding that despicable campaigns have been launched on social media against journalists.
“Imran Khan says that during my government the media was free, there was no restriction or censorship on the media,” she said showing various press clippings regarding censorship during the PTI government. These include reports from Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the Council of Pakistani Newspaper Editors (CPNE).
She also mentioned cases of online harassment, kidnappings and threats faced by journalists, including women journalists, and restrictions imposed on electronic and print media under the previous government.
In addition, the former president and leader of the PPP Asif Zardari also reacted to Mr. Khan’s statements.
In a statement, he said Imran Khan should have realized the importance of a free press when he ruled the country and called the PTI government “the darkest phase” for press freedom in the country. the country’s history. Kalbe Ali in Islamabad also contributed to this report.
Posted in Dawn, July 17, 2022