Imran Khan says mass protest no danger to Pakistan democracy
Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan on Sunday dismissed accusations his planned shutdown of the nationâ€™s capital could lead to a military coup, saying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif â€œcanâ€™t hide behind â€˜democracy in danger’â€ to quash protests.
Islamabad protest will be held at any cost: Imran Khan
Khan, a former national cricket hero, has vowed to bring a million people into Islamabad on Wednesday to paralyse the government and force Sharif either to resign or allow an inquiry into the â€œPanama Papersâ€ revelations about his familyâ€™s offshore wealth.
Sharifâ€™s ruling PML-N party has accused Khanâ€™s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of endangering democracy by attempting to draw Pakistanâ€™s powerful military into a political dispute â€“ a sensitive issue in a nation where the army has a history of staging coups.
Reuters interviewed Khan at his plush home in the hills above Islamabad, where he says the police have him under virtual house arrest after the city banned public gatherings ahead of Wednesdayâ€™s planned protest and arrested scores of PTI workers.
He dismissed claims he wants the army to topple Sharif, as it did when Sharif was in power in the 1990s, and said the protests aim to hold the prime minister to account for alleged corruption. â€œHow can a democrat want the military to come in?,â€ Khan said. â€œHe has to answer. He canâ€™t hide behind â€˜democracy in dangerâ€™.â€
Pakistanâ€™s military has repeatedly refused to comment on Wednesdayâ€™s planned protests. Relations between the PML-N party and the military soured earlier this month after a newspaper report about a top-level national security meeting angered the army, prompting the removal of one of Sharifâ€™s cabinet ministers blamed for the leak.
The tense relations, as well as the rowing between Sharif and Khan, have stirred unease and prompted newspaper editorial warnings that a descent into street chaos could trigger military intervention. On Sunday, one of Sharifâ€™s closest allies, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, wrote in the English-language The News newspaper that Khan was â€œwilling to derail democracy for personal gainsâ€.
No one will be allowed to shut down Islamabad on Nov 2, IHC tells authorities
The attack adds to long-held suspicions by PML-N supporters that Khan is being used by the military in a power struggle with the civilian government, which has ceded control of key policy areas such as relations with India and Afghanistan to the military. â€œI donâ€™t need the army,â€ Khan said. â€œIâ€™m doing what the opposition is supposed to do. Expose corruption, expose breaking the laws of the land â€¦ It doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m asking the army to come in.â€
SHARIF â€œMESSED IT UPâ€
Khan said it is corruption, not protests, that threatens democracy. â€œWhen you have people coming to power and looting the country, they actually weaken the democratic system because people lose faith in democracy, and when the army comes in they welcome them with sweets.â€
Khan blamed Sharif for the latest tensions between the government and the military, saying Sharifâ€™s allies leaked details of the security meeting to the Dawn newspaper. â€œThey messed it up,â€ said Khan. â€œThey have humiliated the army, theyâ€™ve exposed the army, theyâ€™ve ridiculed the army because of the (Dawn leak) â€“ what have we got to do with it?â€
The October 6 Dawn article said top PML-N politicians confronted high-ranking military officials and called for the military not to interfere if civilian authorities tried to arrest members of anti-India militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
On Friday, Khanâ€™s supporters fought running battles with police in the city of Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad. Scores of PTI party workers have been arrested. Khan has accused the police of brutality, and urged his supporters to lay low until Wednesday to avoid arrest.
FEARS OF INSTABILITY
Khanâ€™s latest challenge to Sharifâ€™s government is based on leaked documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm that appear to show the prime ministerâ€™s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
Holding offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Khan insists the Sharif family money was gained by corruption. Khan, 64, said in May he used an offshore company himself to legally avoid paying British tax on a London property sale.
The ruling party has said it would take part in an investigation, but has rejected the oppositionâ€™s formula focused on Sharifâ€™s family rather than making it broad based. Sharifâ€™s own name did not appear in the Panama Papers.
Shaken but undeterred PTI rethinks strategy
In 2014, Khan led a months-long occupation that paralysed Islamabadâ€™s government quarter after rejecting Sharifâ€™s decisive election win a year earlier. The prospect of similar protests has hit the local stock market, stoking fears of political instability just as the sputtering economy was starting to rebound.
Khan said that unless Sharif agreed to his demands over the Panama Papers investigation, there was little the government could do to make him call off Wednesdayâ€™s protests. However, he sought to downplay his partyâ€™s calls to â€œlock downâ€ the city roads and paralyse the capital, something that prompted the authorities to ban all public gatherings.
Khan said his previous rallying cries for supporters to stop the government functioning were not a direct threat, but rather a prediction. â€œWhen you see a million people in Islamabad, trust me, the city will shut down,â€ said Khan.