Pakistan’s outgoing PM denies vendetta against Imran Khan – The Guardian

Exclusive: Shehbaz Sharif accuses jailed predecessor of ‘shabby treatment’ of political rivals in final interview as leader
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, has denied pursuing a personal vendetta against Imran Khan, his political rival and immediate predecessor, who was jailed and barred from politics on corruption charges this month.
Speaking to the Guardian in his last interview before handing over to a caretaker leader, Sharif said “victimisation is not in [his] dictionary” and accused Khan of “shabby treatment of opposition leaders and putting them behind bars” when he was in power from 2018 to April last year.
Sharif, who spent seven months in prison after being jailed in 2020, said there was no “question of any crackdown and personal vendetta”.
“We were treated shabbily and the jail manual was violated when Khan was PM. We were terribly victimised. But we don’t believe in tit for tat … Relevant institutions, courts and rule of law would take its own course in Khan’s [legal case],” Sharif said.
On 5 August, Khan was arrested at his home in the eastern city of Lahore by hundreds of police officers after a court found the former international cricketer guilty of “corrupt practices” involving the sale of state gifts and sentenced him to three years in prison. According to the constitution, that means Khan is automatically banned from politics for five years.
Khan has denied all wrongdoing and his lawyer, Intezar Hussain Panjutha, said the former prime minister would be appealing against the ruling, calling it a case of “political victimisation”.
The court’s judgment is likely to prevent Khan, the leader and founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, standing in forthcoming elections. The polls are scheduled for November but could be delayed further.
Khan and TIP workers say they are facing a politically motivated crackdown and with thousands of their colleagues and supporters arrested since widespread and sometimes violent protests in May after an earlier arrest of Khan.
Khan repeatedly said he was ousted in a “foreign conspiracy” hatched by the US against him and claims to have evidence to prove it. At one public rally this year, the politician displayed what he said was a diplomatic cable that supported his allegations. The US has denied the accusations.
Last week, an American news website, the Intercept, published the diplomatic cable, creating a storm in Pakistan.
Sharif said there was no mention in the cable of any conspiracy to topple Khan’s government or “bring us in power” and accused his rival of twisting facts.
“Now tell me, it is very unbecoming of any political, serious-minded leader to indulge in this kind of black and white lies. Khan said he had the [cable] but he had lost it. Now it has been published on a website,” Sharif added.
Sharif, the younger brother of the three-times prime minister Nawaz Sharif, advised Pakistan’s president to dissolve the national assembly on 9 August, paving the way for a new caretaker administration.
A little known politician, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, was sworn in as the caretaker prime minister on Monday. There are widespread fears of delayed and rigged elections.
Sharif said concerns over the fair conduct of the polls were “totally baseless”.
Multiple elections in Pakistan have been marred by allegations of rigging.
“We are the victims of fraud in elections in 2018. The reasons are well known. We hope this mistake will never be repeated,” Sharif said.
Pakistan’s military has a long history of seeking to maintain its power and influence over civilian politicians.
Khan was backed by the military in the 2018 elections and his fall from power is widely attributed to the deterioration of that relationship.
Khan now faces about 150 charges ranging from corruption to attempted murder.
Sharif said he had no information on a possible ban on Khan’s party. “I really don’t know. It is all up to the court to decide. Personally, I don’t want any political party to be banned,” he said.
Days before the new caretaker administration was due to take charge, Sharif’s government passed more than 50 bills including an amendment to the Official Secrets Act curtailing civil liberties and giving more power to the military and Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI.
The lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed said the Army Act already permitted the trial of civilians by court martial for offences under the Official Secrets Act.
“This amendment to the Official Secrets Act shall have a chilling effect on the exercise of civil liberties and shall further entrench the overarching reach of the military over civilians in Pakistan. This also could be used against political parties in the future as well,” Ahmed said.
Sharif denied any such intention and said the law change was aimed at protecting the lives and identities of security officials who investigated terrorists.
“I don’t think these laws would be against my party or anyone. These allegations are unfounded and I don’t see any serious concern in this regard,” Sharif said.


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