Imran Khan discusses government crackdown on his party – PBS NewsHour

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Imran Khan, Pakistan’s ousted prime minister, has been caught in a political storm for the past several weeks. He was arrested by paramilitary forces on May 9 on corruption charges, then released when the Supreme Court stepped in. The arrest triggered protests by his supporters, followed by a massive crackdown on his party and thousands of arrests. Khan joined Geoff Bennett to discuss the turmoil.
Geoff Bennett:
Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan has been caught in a political storm for the past several weeks.
Earlier this month, he was arrested by paramilitary forces on corruption charges, released only after the Supreme Court stepped in. His arrest triggered widespread protests across that country, followed by thousands of arrests and a massive crackdown on his political party known as PTI.
When Khan was elected in 2018, he had the support of Pakistan’s military, but Khan was removed in a no-confidence vote last year when he started criticizing the army leadership.
He spoke to us early today from his residents in Lahore. I asked him what the last few weeks have been like, as he’s been the target of the country’s government.
Imran Khan, Former Pakistani Prime Minister:
Right now, the situation is such that all my senior leadership is in jail.
Today, one person who was hiding, was the president of my party. They grabbed him, and they put him in jail, too. So, 10,000 of my voters are in jail. I’m pretty isolated here right now. My security — remember, the Interior Ministry has said that my life is in danger, extreme danger.
And yet they picked up my head of security, and he’s disappeared for the last three days. And my bulletproof cars which accompany me, they have impounded two of them. So, the situation is such I’m isolated, quite insecure, all my senior leadership in jail or they have told them that, look, anyone who wants to come out, he has to renounce his membership of my party.
Geoff Bennett:
You are facing criticism from all sides that your supporters were responsible for violence after they laid siege to military buildings.
Did they go too far? Should you have done more? Could you have done more to stop them?
Imran Khan:
What, firstly, I didn’t even know what was going on because I was thrown into jail. So, four days, I had no idea what was — I was cut off, no news, no mobile phone, nothing to know what was happening.
The first I found out was when I was presented to the Supreme Court. And that’s when the judge asked me, and I said, for 27 years I have been in politics, we have never broken the law. We have always stayed within the Constitution. All our protests have been peaceful, which a political party’s right — it’s a right to protest peacefully.
So, what happened on this day, I have asked for an independent inquiry. The Supreme Court must hold an independent inquiry. We feel the arson was deliberately done. It was — we feel that it was like Hitler in 1933 used the arsenal on the German Parliament as a means to crack down on the communists. And he eliminated them.
Geoff Bennett:
You’re saying it wasn’t your supporters who were responsible for the arson?
Imran Khan:
Well, there — you know, there are CCTV cameras. They should have been a proper investigation.
How can you be judge, jury and executioner and then go after the whole party? So 10,000 of your workers who had nothing to do with arson — there were only a few hundred people who possibly were involved. So, this is an excuse really to go after the body.
Geoff Bennett:
The army has said that those responsible for the violence will be tried under military law. The proceedings are held in military courts on military installations. The courts are run by military officers.
Do you believe that your supporters can get a fair hearing in that sort of environment?
Imran Khan:
This is the end of our democracy. In fact, it’s the end of our justice system.
It means there is no confidence in Pakistan’s judiciary. How will the Supreme Court allow this to happen? We are now standing on the brink, where the entire democratic structure is being dismantled. And the final nail in the coffin of the democratic structure will be military courts.
Geoff Bennett:
Pakistan has been directly ruled by the military for almost half its modern history. And most prime ministers, including you, came to power with the support of the military.
How did you end up losing their backing?
Imran Khan:
I think you need to ask the ex-army chief, because he gave a statement afterwards that, yes, he was involved in toppling my government, and because he thought I was a danger to the country.
And yet I worked with them. So what made him suddenly in the last six months decided to pull the rug under the feet of my government? What made him change horses and bring me as the setup, only he can answer.
Geoff Bennett:
At this point, do you want to curtail the army’s power, or do you wish the generals would support you, as they did before?
Imran Khan:
No, the problem is the hybrid system, where the prime minister is supposed to have the responsibility as an elected prime minister, but the power is basically lying with the establishment, military establishment.
This hybrid system has failed. In my opinion, there needs to be a new equilibrium. The elected prime minister who has the responsibility must have the authority in any management system. So, in order for Pakistan to get out of this economic mess, Pakistanis needs rule of law. Rule of law will ensure proper governance.
Geoff Bennett:
Are you confident that the next election will happen by October, as scheduled?
Imran Khan:
Absolutely not. I’m not confident, because what is happening now is that the establishment, along with the — this current government, they are trying to crush the party.
They are trying to ensure that PTI, my party, will not win. And so there are 150 cases slapped on me. And what they are hoping is that either I will be in jail by then — and most of my leadership, they will try and turn, like they’re saying — like some of our senior leaders who were in jail came out and said that, look, we are no longer part of the party, because that was the condition they could come out of jail, and all charges be dropped.
So either the party will be so weak that they will not be able to win the elections. The only way elections will be if PTI cannot come into power. And that’s why, if, by October, this — it’s not the case, they feel that PTI will still win, I don’t think there will be elections.
Geoff Bennett:
What role should the U.S. take in this situation, if at all?
In the past, you have criticized the U.S. for interfering in your country’s affairs.
Imran Khan:
Countries have to solve the problem from within.
But all we — I want the U.S. to say is what the professed values are all over the world, where they — where they say, we stand with democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, fundamental rights, against custodial torture.
That’s all we want them to say. When they speak about China or Russia or Hong Kong, they talk about all these things. Well, here’s a classic example that the democracy is being rolled back, and all these things are happening. So, I think that’s what — where — where they should be consistent.
Geoff Bennett:
Do you see a peaceful or negotiated way out of this situation?
Imran Khan:
I think we have reached an impasse, because, despite doing everything, the party’s popularity has just grown. I mean, the latest report is a 70 percent rate in Pakistan. It is unheard of in our history.
So, will they keep on, on this course of trying to crush a popular political party, or will they sit down and work out on some sort of settlement? I think, at some point, sense will prevail. I’m an optimistic, and I think then we would come to some sort of an understanding.
Geoff Bennett:
Imran Khan is the former prime minister of Pakistan.
Thank you so much for your time.
Imran Khan:
My pleasure.
Watch the Full Episode
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Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.

As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.

Zeba Warsi is Foreign affairs producer, based in Washington DC. She’s a Columbia Journalism School graduate with an M.A. in Political journalism. Prior to the NewsHour, she was based in New Delhi for seven years, covering politics, extremism, sexual violence, social movements and human rights as a special correspondent with CNN’s India affiliate CNN-News18.
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