After going “missing” for 34 days—with his family alleging he had been picked up by security forces– Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ally, on Friday urged the military to issue a blanket pardon for any “common man” involved in the May 9 riots.
Over the past month, Rashid’s nephew has repeatedly called on senior government officials to secure the release of his uncle, stressing the family has no knowledge of his whereabouts or condition. According to lawyer Sardar Abdul Razaq, Rashid was arrested from Rawalpindi on Sept. 17, but was never produced in court.
In an interview similar to those earlier given by PTI leaders Sadaqat Ali Abbasi and Usman Dar upon their “returns” following extended disappearances, the former minister told Samaa News that he had been on a chilla and had been studying the Quran for the past 40 days. He said it was a “strenuous” chilla and he had been unable to contact his family. To a question on why he felt the need to give an interview after months outside the public eye, the AML chief said this was now a “tradition.”
Maintaining that he had spent his time spent “missing” reflecting on many things, he stressed that he was not harmed in any way and was treated well by those he had been with. Emphasizing that he had always supported the Army and would continue to do so, he said he had advised the same to PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
Condemning the May 9 riots, he claimed they had resulted from a narrative built and propagated by certain PTI leaders. “This didn’t happen in one day. Gathering such a huge crowd and inflicting so much damage; it can’t happen in a single day,” he said, without explicitly agreeing with questions that it could have been pre-planned. Saying the military should take action against “non-political actors” involved in the May 9 riots in line with its rules, he reiterated that “poor” political workers should be pardoned.
“During my time in solitude, I decided to start a struggle to secure a general amnesty for poor political workers who were dragged into a political game,” he said, adding he could request this of Gen. Munir.
Regretting that he had not been included in the team tasked to negotiation with the Army on the PTI’s behalf. “The country cannot work without institutions,” he said, adding politicians should work with them and avoid taking names of Army officers. Recalling that he had advised the PTI to avoid any dispute with the military establishment, he claimed some followers of the party—Shahbaz Gill, Shireen Mazari, Hammad Azhar, Zulfiqar Bukhari—had believed they had support of officials within the Army.
Emphasizing that the Army stands united behind its chief—regardless of who it might be—he lamented that Khan was “stubborn” and it was a mistake to try to block the appointment of Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir.
While maintaining he was on a chilla, at one point Rashid’s narrative appeared to slip, as he confirmed that he had been targeted because of postings on his Twitter account. Claiming he had not operated his account, but had approved postings on it, he admitted he had not condemned the narrative being built by the PTI following Khan’s ouster as prime minister through a vote of no-confidence.
To a question about the PTI’s long march in 2022, the AML chief claimed its objectives had been in excess of merely mobilizing people. “It’s not right to share those things now,” he added.