The ex-prime minister’s muted criticism of vandalism and arson at military installations comes after more than a dozen leaders quit his party.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says everyone in Pakistan has condemned the attacks on military installations during the deadly protests over his arrest last week.
“Who isn’t condemning the attack on the Lahore Corps Commander House? Tell me one person in Pakistan who is not doing that,” he said during a news conference at his residence in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday.
On May 9, Khan was dramatically arrested over corruption charges while making a court appearance in capital Islamabad. Two days later, the Supreme Court declared his arrest illegal and another court in Islamabad ordered his release on May 12.
Shortly after Khan was arrested, a mob of his alleged supporters stormed the residence of a top military commander in Lahore and set it on fire.
Several other army installations were also attacked across the country as angry Khan supporters accused the powerful military of orchestrating his arrest.
But Khan on Thursday denied his supporters were behind the arson and alleged a plot to frame him and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party over the incident.
“The burning of that old building, it is a deliberate ploy to blame it on us,” the 70-year-old opposition leader said. “In 27 years [of his political career], have I ever asked to turn to burning and rioting? I have always talked about peaceful protests within the law and the constitution.”
Khan repeated the statement on Friday while making an appearance before an anti-terrorism court in Lahore which granted him protection from arrest over vandalism of the military commander’s residence.
“There is no Pakistani who will not condemn this attack,” he told reporters inside the court.
Khan’s muted criticism of the attacks on military infrastructure came after more than a dozen top PTI leaders quit the party over the May 9 violence and the subsequent government crackdown in which at least 10 people died and more than 4,000 were arrested.
Pakistani authorities said they will try suspects who attacked the military installations under the draconian Army Act, a decision condemned by rights groups who say such trials are never fair.
Mahmood Moulvi, a senior PTI leader from the southern city of Karachi and a former parliamentarian, told Al Jazeera there was only “one reason” why he decided to quit Khan’s party.
“It never happens anywhere in the world that a nation fights against its own army. My decision to quit was simply because we must not fight our own institutions, especially the one which we go for help every time there is an emergency,” he told Al Jazeera.
Moulvi said there was an unfortunate trend in Pakistan where every political party changed its tune when pushed out of power.
“This is our history. Whenever a political party, be it PTI or any other, when in power they say the establishment is the best. But the moment they are out, they start criticising them. While the military must not be a part of such politics, these parties often drag it,” he told Al Jazeera.
In response, Taimur Khan Jhagra, a former PTI minister in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, alleged his party members were being coerced to quit.
“This is an old part of Pakistan’s politics. Some have spine, some may not have character, some will genuinely be fair-weather friends. But this kind of political engineering may break weaker parties. It will not break the PTI, where Khan has a direct relationship with his people. The PTI will emerge stronger but the damage to democracy will take time to heal, a lot of time,” he told Al Jazeera.
In his news conference on Thursday, Khan spoke in a reconciliatory tone as political tensions gripped the nuclear-armed country.
“Who fights his own army? If anyone fights [their] army, the country will come out to be the lone loser,” he said. “My fight is not with them [army]. They are angry with me, and I still don’t know why.”
He also tweeted his sympathies for the colleagues who deserted his party.
“My sympathies go to all those who under pressure have been made to leave the party. And I commend and salute all the senior members who are resisting the extreme pressure to quit the party,” he posted.
Meanwhile, a tense calm persists at Khan’s residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park area where dozens of security forces have been deployed as authorities plan to search his residence for suspects behind the attacks on military installations.
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