Protest abandoned to avoid bloodshed as some workers were armed: Imran

PESHAWAR: Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Monday, while explaining why he ended the Azadi March last week, said he feared that “bloodshed” was imminent as some of his party workers were also armed and could have retaliated in the face of the authorities’ hours-long shelling and heavy-handed tactics.

After an intense build-up the previous day and repeatedly urging his supporters to reach D-Chowk in Islamabad in order to push the government towards new elections, Imran had on last Thursday sprang a surprise by retreating and calling off the march.

In an interview with TV journalist Moeed Pirzada for 92 News, the PTI chairman revealed his reasoning for doing so, saying that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led government would have been the ultimate beneficiary of any ensuing chaos and violence.

PESHAWAR: PTI chairman Imran Khan giving an interview to Moeed Pirzada of 92 News Programme ‘Hard Talk Pakistan’ on Monday.

“The hatred against police had already intensified and seeing me [at D-Chowk] would have further stoked the sentiments of my workers,” he said. “I was a 100 per cent sure that bullets will be fired. People from our side were also ready as some of them were carrying pistols. It would have led to further hatred against the police and the army and caused divisions within the country …,” he told the interviewer.

“I was hundred per cent sure the country would have headed towards anarchy in this situation,” he added.

The PTI chairman said the situation gave him the impression as if Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and PM Shehbaz Sharif had asked the Pakistan Army to let them handle the situation “so the government could teach a lesson to the protesters”.

Imran said his party would approach the Supreme Court on Tuesday and ask whether or not holding a “peaceful protest” was permissible in the country. “If the Supreme Court does not protect our fundamental rights this time, then it is not democracy.” The former PM went on to say that “this will be the trial of the Supreme Court now”.

A file picture shows PTI’s Chairman Imran Khan talking to media and party leaders. Also pictured are (from left) Shafqat Mahmood, Asad Umar and Fawad Choudhary.

Imran Khan has said many supporters participating in a long march he led to the capital last week were carrying “pistols” and he had called off the protest fearing unrest and bloodshed.

“Even on our side, people were ready, many people I saw were carrying pistols, so I was afraid that the next step would be that there would be unrest.”

Imran Khan’s statement followed a long day of clashes between law enforcement officials and marchers. Police in the central Pakistani city of Lahore, the epicenter of the clashes, said they had recovered weapons from the cars of two office-bearers of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party ahead of the protest march, and feared that PTI marchers were planning violence.

At least 18 police and paramilitary troops were wounded, said Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, after dozens of the protesters breached the last line of security outside the parliament.

There were also clashes in several cities in Punjab province and the southern port city of Karachi.

Interview to Sky TV

Imran Khan said he wasn’t aware that Russia was going to invade Ukraine on the same day he met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 24.

Speaking to Sky News, Khan, who was ousted by Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in April, has been criticised for having face-to-face talks with Russia’s president just hours after the attacks in Ukraine began.

Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan giving interview of Sky Television’s anchor Mr. Mark.

On a video link from Peshawar, Khan, who arrived in Russia on February 23 for a two-day visit planned months before the crisis began, said: “How the hell was I supposed to know that the day I landed in Moscow that Putin was going into Ukraine.

“I have never believed in military solutions, ours was a bilateral meeting, it was planned long before.

“We didn’t realise that when I would reach there Putin would go into Ukraine. How was I supposed to know and how can you be punished for that?”

He added he is against military solutions in Ukraine and the purpose of his visit to the Kremlin was to discuss bilateral agreements.

The former prime minister was also questioned about his government’s close ties with China and Russia, with Mr Khan stating that he was elected to serve the people of Pakistan.

“There are 50 million people in Pakistan below the poverty line […] I was not elected for them to correct all the wrongs that are going on in the world.”

“My responsibility was to my country and so all my relationships, whether it was with China, with the United States, with Russia, were for the benefits of our own people,” he said.

Khan also accused India of violating United Nations resolutions in occupied Kashmir, saying New Delhi has “illegally taken away the right of the Kashmiri people”.

“Did anyone speak against it? There are atrocities going on in Kashmir, 100,000 people in Kashmir have died. Has anyone condemned India for that?

“No, because India is an ally, allow us to be neutral too so we can look after our people.”

Pakistan shares a long, porous border with Afghanistan and Khan was asked about the Taliban takeover of the country last year. He said “there was never going to be a military solution” in Afghanistan.

“I am not responsible or a spokesman for the Taliban, if there was any other solution after 20 years of war, you should have found some solution,” he said, adding that Pakistan has never supported the Taliban. “Pakistan is the collateral damage of Afghanistan.”

Directive to MNAs

The PTI leadership has directed its members of the National Assembly not to participate in the process of verification of resignations which is scheduled to start from June 6.

According to the sources, the PTI leadership has instructed its lawmakers to not meet Speaker National Assembly Raja Pervez Ashraf who has asked the MNAs to appear in person and verify their resignations.

The sources said that the party leadership has told the members that since they have resigned so no further action is required in this regard.

NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf had on Monday summoned the PTI legislators individually from June 6 to 10 and confirm their resignation. The NA Secretariat has sent letters to all the PTI MNAs who tendered resignations on April 11.

It may be recalled that 131 members of the National Assembly belonging to the PTI tendered their resignations en masse to the then deputy speaker National Assembly Qasim Suri last month after the Imran Khan government was ousted through a no-confidence vote. Suri had accepted the resignations and issued the notification.

Later on, the newly elected Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf de-sealed the resignations of the PTI MNAs and announced to verify them in order to ascertain their veracity.

Punjab govt claims weapons recovered

from vehicles of PTI’s Lahore office bearers

According to INP news agency, the Punjab government on Wednesday claimed that weapons were recovered from the vehicles of PTI’s Lahore office bearers on the day the party launched its “Azadi March”, as more senior leaders were purportedly rounded up.

Lahore DIG Operations Sohail Chaudhry said the police had received information some days ago about “illegal weapons” being brought to the city. “During the blockades Tuesday, we tried to stop five cars on the motorway. Later, in a raid at the homes of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi, the weapons were recovered.

“The leaders have been taken into police custody,” he said, adding that the police would ensure that the march was held peacefully according to the law.

Similar allegations were made by PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz who tweeted that the Punjab Police had recovered weapons from the vehicles of the two leaders, asserting that this was the “ugly face” of the party’s Azadi March.

“Weapons recovered by Punjab Lahore police from vehicles of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi. Case registered,” she tweeted today morning.

Continuing, she provided details of the weapons which comprise six “223 bore guns, 13 SMG rifles, three pistols, 10 ‘kopay’, 96 magazines of SMG rifles and 223 bore guns, 26 magazines of pistols, 50 boxes of bullets and six bigger packs of bullets”.