The exodus of workers and leaders from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) continued on Wednesday, with senior vice-president Chaudhry Fawad Hussain and secretary general Asad Umar both announcing separate decisions to distance themselves from the party in the wake of an ongoing crackdown following the May 9 riots triggered by Imran Khan’s arrest.
In a brief posting on Twitter, Fawad said he was leaving the PTI as well as taking a break from active politics. “I am parting ways with Imran Khan and stepping down from party position,” he wrote, adding that he was also “taking a break from politics.” The Jhelum lawmaker had been a particularly vocal spokesperson for the PTI and close aide of Khan who served alternately as information, law and science and technology minister during the party’s tenure in government.
Fawad also referred to an earlier press conference wherein he had “unequivocally condemned” the May 9 riots. “Pakistan exists because the Pakistan Army exists and we must devise our policies keeping this point of view at the front,” he had said from outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) where he had been sheltering to prevent a re-arrest by police under the Maintenance of Public Order.
The former vice-president had been among the first PTI leaders to be arrested following the May 9 riots and was released on IHC orders after less than a week in detention. Since his release, he has maintained an abnormally low public profile, refraining from issuing any political statements or making any public appearances with other PTI leaders.
Also on Wednesday, Asad Umar—shortly after his release from detention on the IHC’s orders—announced he was stepping down as the PTI secretary general after serving in the position for 17 months. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he stressed that he was not exiting the party, but would no longer serve as an office-holder. He said he would also no longer remain a part of the PTI’s core committee.
“Given the current situation … after May 9, it is not personally possible for me to continue performing my party leadership duties,” he said, claiming that while he was under “no pressure,” he did not feel he could communicate his personal concerns adequately so long as he held party offices.
Earlier, social media had been rife with rumors that Umar could also be exiting the party, with decision to remain a member raising questions over whether he aspires to be a “replacement” for Khan, as it becomes increasingly evident he might be sidelined from the party’s leadership.
Following the May 9 riots, which saw PTI supporters attacking various military and civil installations and buildings, thousands of party workers and leaders have been arrested. Subsequently the government and military have announced that culprits would be prosecuted under all relevant laws, including the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. Since then, several party leaders and lawmakers, including Shireen Mazari, Aamir Mehmood Kiani, Malik Amin Aslam, Mahmood Moulvi, Aftab Siddiqui, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, have publicly denounced the attacks and announced they are leaving the former ruling party.
Amidst the exodus, independent observers have lamented the perceived “pressure” forcing people to exit the party and urged restraint from authorities.