Defence Minister and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) senior leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif has labeled Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan as an “instigator” of the May 9 riots in which the party workers vandalized military installations and state property to protest against the arrest of the party chairman in a corruption case.
While giving an exclusive interview to Arab News, the minister said that there is a possibility of Khan’s trial before a military court.
Following Khan’s arrest on May 9 in connection with a land fraud case, his followers staged days-long violent protests in which they set fire to government and private vehicles as well as military facilities. Following the arrest of hundreds of Khan’s PTI party members and many of his closest allies, the army declared that individuals found responsible for the violence would be prosecuted in accordance with applicable Pakistani laws, including the Army Act. This week, the Shehbaz Sharif government also revealed that it was thinking of outlawing Khan’s party.
Asif said that only those accused against whom “absolutely foolproof or ironclad evidence” of encouraging assaults on military sites was obtained will be prosecuted under army laws.
According to that statute, “very, very few people will be tried,” he stated. “Perhaps two, three, or four people were in charge of or encouraging those people,” he added.
The minister made his comments as the court on Thursday sent 16 civilians to the military for prosecution for their alleged participation in the violent protests in support of Khan.
The idea of Khan being prosecuted under the Army Act and appearing before a military court was also left open by the defense minister.
Asif declared that Khan is a provocateur. “Evidence must be evaluated, and the government’s lawyers or legal advisers will investigate it,” he added.
In reaction to his announcement on Wednesday that the government was considering a ban on the PTI, Asif compared the violence of May 9 to 9/11 in the United States and said that the “unimaginable” attacks on military assets were the reason the issue of a ban on the party came up.
However, he added that if the government wanted to begin the process of banning the PTI, the parliament would be consulted.
The minister stated, “There is a process of banning a party. Of course, whenever this process starts, if it starts, we will bring it to the parliament and we will try, and obviously, there could be a judicial procedure also for that.”
Although Asif said he was personally opposed to outlawing political parties, he added that “everyone has a red line, even people like me, institutions, or countries, and when those red lines are crossed, one has to react to that.”
The defense minister denied that Khan’s close allies leaving the PTI one after another was a move to “dismantle” the party.
This week, in what many perceived as a softening of his attitude, Khan declared he was ready to set up a committee to have discussions with “powerful people.”
When asked if the government was prepared to accept Khan’s most recent offer for talks, Asif responded, “We need a broader consensus between different powerhouses that are part of our ruling elite or power structure.” He added that the judiciary, bureaucracy, military establishment, parliament, and political parties, including Khan’s PTI, should be involved in creating the consensus.
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