Imran Khan asserts that the Pakistan military is deeply afraid of elections.
Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, spoke with BBC HARDtalk and asserted that the military is afraid of an upcoming election scheduled for later this year.
He accused the country’s leadership of pushing Pakistan towards a regressive era, referring to them as “fascists”. Imran Khan was elected in 2018 and served for nearly four years before being ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last year, which some attribute to his falling out of favor with the influential military.
Pakistan’s military has long held a strong influence over the country’s governance. Despite critics arguing that Mr. Khan had the military’s support during his rise to power, he maintains that his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is the only one not created by military dictators.
He claims that this is why there is an ongoing campaign to dismantle PTI, despite winning 30 out of 37 by-elections even after being out of government. The PTI has faced significant defections and arrests of key members in recent months, but Imran Khan remains steadfast in his belief that the party is still intact.
He said the establishment had hoped that his removal from power would weaken his party. “Normally, it happens when you’re out of power for quite a while. But instead, what happened was the party’s popularity kept growing,” Mr Khan said.
“They have tried everything. They have put 10,000 people in jail, including women and peaceful protesters. And worse, they have tortured people,” he said, adding that if the party was not “finished” as his detractors claimed, the authorities would have announced the date of the election.
Mr Khan’s supporters view him as a political outsider untouched by corruption, and have accused the military of engineering his removal from office – allegations that the army denies.
The former prime minister has been mired in legal problems since leaving power.
His team says he faces almost 200 charges including sedition, terrorism, and abetting murder which see him shuttling between his tightly guarded home and the courts.
The strength of his popularity was displayed when he was arrested from inside a court in May, sparking nationwide protests.
Thousands of his supporters marched through the streets, tearing through military buildings across Pakistan and setting some on fire. Many, including members of Mr. Khan’s own party, have blamed him for crossing a red line and encouraging the violence.
However, the former international cricket star-turned-politician denies involvement in the arson cases and said those cases need to be investigated separately.
“What did you think the supporters would do when they saw the army, the commander, was picking me up from there? Was there not going to be a protest?” he said.
Mr. Khan has insisted that it was the military who incited the violence by sending soldiers instead of police officers to arrest him.
Speaking to the BBC from his two-storey mansion in Lahore, Mr. Khan, who positions himself as a reformist, said: “The fact is that the country is on the brink of a major disaster. We are heading [into] what I feel like are the dark ages.
“The only solution to Pakistan is free and fair elections. That’s the only way we will get out of this mess,” he added.
A series of laws have been discussed in parliament over the last few months, many of which critics say are designed to make it more difficult for Mr. Khan and his party to run in the election, if not prevent them from doing so entirely.
One of the bills tabled recommends three-year jail terms for anyone found guilty of disclosing the identity of an army intelligence officer.
This comes amid growing criticism by Mr. Khan of the military and intelligence officers. He is the first politician to have publicly named senior intelligence officers, accusing them of conspiring against him.
“Unfortunately, the country has been taken over by fascists, and they are petrified of elections. The reason why I’m suffering is because they know that [in the] elections, we would win hands down. And because of that, they’re dismantling a democracy,” he said.
You can find out more in the full HARDtalk interview on BBC News TV, World Service radio, and on podcast via BBC Sounds.