Defense Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday claimed the government is considering a ban on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in light of the May 9 riots targeting military buildings and monuments, but stressed that the decision has not yet been finalized.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said a “review” of the PTI’s activities was underway. To a question, he said Parliament would be taken into confidence if the government decided to proceed with any attempt to ban the PTI. Referring to the recent wave of defections from the PTI, Asif said their testimonies “proved” that the May 9 riots had been pre-planned and were not the result of spontaneous anger.
Stressing that there was no precedence for the kind of violence witnessed on May 9, Asif said the Army’s concerns in this regard were valid. Clarifying that overcoming the prevailing situation required harsh measures, he said the ruling coalition would take any and every step necessary to prevent others from targeting armed forces in the same manner in future. Referring to the declaration of May 25 as Martyrs’ Day, the minister said it would be celebrated and tributes paid to the country’s martyrs. Honoring martyrs, he said, was the norm globally.
To another question, the defense minister lamented that PTI chief Imran Khan had yet to condemn the violence of May 9 in “clear” words. “He says he did not know; he was [in jail]. He had his phone … he repeatedly said that this reaction was expected and will happen again if he is arrested,” he said, referring to a leaked audio of a purported call between Khan and PTI spokesperson Mussarat Cheema while the former was in NAB custody.
“Imran Khan sees the army as his adversary,” Asif alleged. “His entire politics was done in the lap of the Army and today he has suddenly decided to stand against it,” he said, maintaining this was all coming from people who were leaving the PTI. “They have said that everything happened with planning. In fact, they were facilitated,” he alleged, without any further clarification.
“Is there any crime that was not committed on May 9? The ISI office was attacked, they tried to enter cantonment in Sialkot but that attack was repulsed; they also set fire to the Lahore Corps Commanders’ house,” he said, adding that there was “clarity” among the country’s leadership that these actions could not be done by anyone inside Pakistan.
To a question on whether there was any pressure on the government or military to send Imran Khan into exile, the defense minister said this was an internal issue and no pressure would be tolerated.
Addressing a press conference outside the Supreme Court, PTI Senator Ali Zafar rubbished Asif’s comments about a ban on his party, saying if such a situation arose, it would be declared “null and void” within a day by the apex court. Recalling that a ban had been imposed on the Jamaat-e-Islami in the 1960s, he said that, too, had been set aside by then-chief justice of Pakistan Alvin Robert Cornelius. “The SC had said that you cannot ban a political party and it is everyone’s right to form a political party,” he said, adding that vandalism during the May 9 riots were an “individual act” and did not constitute actions of a party.