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Imran-army rift widens as Pakistan begins to round up Khan’s supporters

Imran Khan blames Pakistani Army for violence on May 9 (Photo: IANS)

The fatal confrontation between former prime minister Imran Khan and the powerful Pakistani Army shows no signs of piping down.

Addressing party workers through a video link from his Lahore residence, Khan asked the Pakistani Army to form a political party so that it can work openly and not take decisions from behind closed doors. He showed video clips of army trucks dropping ‘unidentified’ plainclothes men, who are alleged to have joined Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) workers during the riots.

The PTI leader has squarely blamed the Pakistani Army for the unprecedented violence that brought the country to a standstill.

Khan also demanded an independent investigation into the May 9 violence in which his supporters attacked army installations including the Lahore corps commander’s residence and the subsequent firing by the security forces. Khan also exhorted his followers to come out for mass public rallies on Wednesday in Muridke, Punjab.

The Pakistani Army, which bore the brunt of violence after Khan’s arrest has doubled down on PTI supporters. The army is being supported by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in cracking down on Khan’s supporters as rumours float around that there is a schism in Pakistan’s security forces and also the army.

Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir, visited Corps Headquarters Peshawar on Saturday to review Pakistan’s poor security situation and counter-terrorism efforts due to rising violence across the country. Gen. Munir vowed to bring to justice all those people who had planned, instigated and carried out vandalism on the “Black Day” of May 9 when Khan had been arrested from the Islamabad High Court.

Gen. Munir addressed officers at the Peshawar Corps Headquarters on a day when at least 14 Pakistani security force personnel were killed and nine injured by Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP). The TJP had entered the Pakistani Army camp in Muslim Bagh, Balochistan, on Friday and carried out their assault till Saturday morning.

Talking about the attacks on the security forces, Gen. Munir said that a concerted effort is being made to target the armed forces through various ways, including information warfare.

Supporting the army chief’s efforts to arrest Khan’s supporters who caused a civil war-like situation, Prime Minister Sharif set a deadline of 72 hours for the Khan’s supporters to be arrested for the arson and violence of May 9. He clearly blamed Imran Khan and his followers for the mayhem in the entire country.

In a clear threat to workers of the PTI, Sharif said that the government is deploying technical and intelligence resources to identify and nab the arsonists and vandals. Sharif said: “The cases of vandalism will be tried by anti-terrorism courts” and instructed the law minister to increase the number of such courts.

Sharif visited the Lahore corps commander’s residence, called Jinnah House, which had been set on fire in the day-long anti-army violence that shook Pakistan. He blamed Khan for planning and instigating the attack on the army officer’s family. Sharif also met with injured officers of the Pakistani Army, believed to have been attacked by Khan’s supporters.

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