Pakistan’s defense minister describes former prime minister Khan as the “instigator” of the army’s attacks, and does not rule out military trial

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Thursday called former Prime Minister Imran Khan an “instigator” of rioters who attacked government assets and military installations in protest at the opposition politician’s arrest earlier this month, and did not rule out a court trial. Military court.

Khan’s arrest in a land fraud case on May 9 was met with days of violent protests by his supporters, who set cars and private and government buildings, including military installations, on fire.

Several of Khan’s closest associates were arrested, as well as thousands of Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters, and the military announced in the aftermath that those found implicated in the violence would be prosecuted under relevant Pakistani laws, including the Army Act.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government also said this week that it was considering imposing a ban on the Justice and Reconciliation Movement.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News on Thursday, Pakistan’s defense minister said that the suspects against whom conclusive evidence was found of abetting attacks on military installations will be prosecuted under the army’s laws.

“There will be very, very few people who will be prosecuted under this law,” he said.

“People, maybe two or three or four people, were leading or instigating these people.”

The minister’s remarks came as a Pakistani court in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday handed over 16 civilians to the army for trial on suspicion of involvement in violent pro-Khan protests.

Nor did the defense minister rule out the possibility of Khan being tried under army law and brought before a military court.

“He is an instigator,” Asif said. “The evidence must be evaluated, and will be considered by the government’s attorneys or legal advisors.”

Responding to his statement on Wednesday that the government is considering a ban on the PTI movement, Asif Anaf likened May 9 to September 11 in the US, saying the issue of banning the party had arisen because of the “unimaginable” attacks. on military property.

“A Pakistani political party, a Pakistani, a Pakistani group – I can’t at least imagine a supporter of a political party led by its (Khan) leader, or rather being manipulated by the leader,” Asif said. military.

But he added that parliament would be consulted if the government decided to start the process of banning the Justice and Reconciliation Movement.

“There is a process (to ban a party), of course, whenever that process starts, if it starts, we will bring it to Parliament and we will try, and obviously there can be a judicial procedure as well for that,” the minister said.

Asif added that he personally is not in favor of banning political parties, “but everyone has a red line, even individuals like me, institutions or countries, and when those red lines are crossed, one has to respond to that.”

Commenting on the resignation of key aides to Khan from his party, the minister ruled out that this was an attempt to “dismantle” PTI.

Khan said his aides were forced out under pressure from the government and army in a maneuver to break up PTI ahead of elections scheduled for later this year.

This week, in what was widely seen as a softening of his stance, Khan announced he was willing to set up a committee to hold talks with “the strong people,” a likely reference to the military, with whom Khan is locked in a worsening state. confrontation.

The cricket legend turned politician swept to power in the 2018 general election widely believed to have been rigged in his favour by the army – both deny the charge – but has since had a public falling out with the army after he was last sacked. In April in a parliamentary vote of no confidence he blamed a plot carried out by the United States, the military and his political opponents in Pakistan. Everyone denies this claim.

“We need a broader consensus among the different forces that are part of our ruling elite or power structure,” Asif said when asked if the government was ready to accept Khan’s latest offer of talks, adding that the judiciary, the military, parliament and politics. The parties, including Khan’s PTI, must be involved in forging consensus.

“There has to be a national consensus on most issues,” the defense secretary said. “There is no consensus among politicians or one or two other institutions such as the judiciary or the establishment. We must have a new social contract.”

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