ISLAMABAD (AP) — Ousted Pakistani premier Imran Khan broadened his fight with the government in an overnight speech accusing officials of delaying snap elections to control who serves as the next army chief. The claim drew condemnation from the government and the military on Monday.
Khan made his remarks Sunday at a rally of his Tehreek-e-Insaf party in Faisalabad, a city in the Punjab province. He was referring to the replacement of outgoing army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is retiring in November.
It was the first time Khan, who is seeking a return to power and is facing charges of threatening police and a judge, attacked the military so bluntly and raised questions about the credentials of top generals.
His remarks were viewed as an insult to the military leadership, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its 75-year history.
“A new army chief is coming in November,” Khan said on Sunday, adding that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s coalition government wanted to avoid a “patriotic” army chief who would question top officials about how they got their money.
Sharif took to Twitter on Monday, saying Khan maligned the military.
In a statement, the military also said it was “aghast” at Khan’s statement.
“Politicizing the senior leadership of Pakistan Army and scandalizing the process of selection of COAS (Chief of Army Staff) is neither in the interest of the state of Pakistan nor of the institution,” the military said.
Khan rose to power in 2018 and was ousted through no-confidence in the parliament in April.
But Khan claims he was ousted under a U.S. plot, a charge that Washington and Sharif’s government deny. Since his exit, he has stepped up his campaign to oust Sharif’s government through “pressure from the people.”
Khan wants Sharif to agree to snap elections, a demand which Sharif has rejected.
Sharif’s government last month filed terrorism charges against Khan for threatening the Islamabad police chief and a judge in his speech at another rally. But, a court later gave him bail, shielding him from arrest.
Although Khan initially enjoyed excellent ties with his army chief, troubles for him began when he resisted the appointment of a new army chief by Bajwa who wanted to replace Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Eventually, Bajwa removed Hameed, Khan’s favorite spy chief, which caused a rift between Khan and Bajwa.