Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday appealed to the Supreme Court judges to save the democracy in Pakistan, saying "you are our last hope," amidst a possible ban on his political party following the attacks by his supporters on military installations.
In an address to the nation via social media, 70-year-old Khan also said that a massive crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is ongoing and the regime has "jailed the entire leadership and even those who are not even a part of the party." "You are our last hope," Khan said, referring to the top judiciary.
"Supreme Court judges, the nation is looking at you and your unity is very important for the public. It is up to you now to save this country and take a stand for it because Pakistan is becoming a banana republic," Khan urged, amidst reports that the internet connection of his Zaman Park residence has been shut down.
Khan, who is facing the heat following widespread violence by his supporters earlier this month, also offered to hold a dialogue and said he is ready to constitute a committee for talks with "anyone who is in power today”.
"I am making this committee and I say two things: If they tell the committee that they have a solution and the country can function better without me. Or they tell the committee what benefit will Pakistan gain from holding elections in October. Convince us on these two things," he said, adding that he will announce the committee tomorrow.
On May 9, violent protests erupted after the arrest of Khan by paramilitary Rangers. His party workers vandalised a dozen military installations, including the Lahore Corps Commander house, Mianwali airbase and the ISI building in Faisalabad. The Army headquarters in Rawalpindi was also attacked by the mob for the first time. Police put the death toll in violent clashes to 10.
"They have benefitted from the arson at the Lahore Corps Commander’s house and used it to crack down on the PTI … a crackdown which was never seen in the history of the country," Khan said.
He claimed that the authorities have jailed the entire leadership of his party and even those who are not even a part of the party. "There is only one way out, that they utter the magic words of ‘I am leaving PTI’ … is this a joke?” Khan asked.
Feeling the heat of legal processes, several PTI leaders have quit the party, including liberal-minded former human rights minister Shireen Mazari and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry.
Khan said Mazari’s departure from politics was not just a loss for his party but for the entire country and its democracy.
"At present, over 10,000 of our workers are in jail," Khan said, adding that they are being treated as if they are foreign enemies of the country, but even then, prisoners of war have rights.
Khan said his supporters are now scared of coming on the media, fearing that they will be caught and thrown into jails.
"I have told my people to go into hiding. I am telling my workers and office-bearers that there is no need for you to come out. Don’t stay at your homes, hide," Khan said.
Khan said that this oppression will not eliminate his party but will in fact increase its popularity.
"The way they are gripping necks and forcing them to leave PTI. You were not born for this … when the nation bows its head in front of fear, those nations die," he said.
"I am sitting prepared for them, whenever they will come for me. I am prepared every day," he added.
His remarks came hours after Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the government is mulling a possible ban on Khan's party following the attacks by his supporters on military installations.
"A decision (to ban PTI) has not been taken yet, but a review is surely underway,” Asif told reporters.
He, however, said that the matter will be referred to the Parliament for approval if the government finally decides to ban the former ruling party.
He also criticized Khan for not condemning the attacks on the military facilities.
"Till now, he (Imran) has not condemned [the violence] in clear words. He says that he did not know, he was [in custody]. He had his phone […] he repeated that this reaction was expected and will happen again if he is arrested,” said Asif.
Asif claimed that the vandalism of military installations across the country on May 9 was “coordinated attacks" planned by Khan.
"There is a lot of evidence and their people are telling themselves that they were briefed about this beforehand,” he said. "I feel that his struggle of a year … all his plans failed and this was his last move against the armed forces.” However, PTI leader Barrister Ali Zafar said that the party would challenge the ban in the court as a political party cannot be banned. He told the media that when a ban was imposed on the Jamaat-i-Islami in the 1960s, it was set aside by then-chief justice Alvin Robert Cornelius.
"Efforts were made to put a ban on Jamaat-i-Islami long ago. The SC had said that you cannot ban a political party and it is everyone’s right to form a political party,” Zafar said.
Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.
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