Ties with Pakistan Army chief Gen Bajwa strained after differences arose over appointment of Punjab province chief minister: Imran Khan

PTI, Nov 10, 2022, 3:22 PM IST

Imran Khan has said that his relations with Pakistan’s Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa nosedived after differences arose over the appointment of the Punjab province chief minister, a media report said on Thursday.

The 70-year-old former cricketer-turned-politician, who is recovering from injuries sustained during an assassination bid last week, has announced resumption of the long march on Tuesday but later his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) changed the decision and rescheduled it for Thursday.

“I always imagined that, because the Army is so powerful and organised, when I would try to bring rule of law in the country, they would play an important part,” Khan said in the interview to the Dawn newspaper.

When asked when it all began to go wrong between him and Pakistan’s powerful Army, Khan said his government’s failure to convict those whom he alleged of corruption was the first sign.

The second, he said, was the choice of Punjab chief minister.

“The army chief wanted me to have Aleem Khan [as CM Punjab] and I wouldn’t. Because not only were there National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases against him, he had occupied and sold land worth millions belonging to the government,” the PTI chief said.

When asked why he included Khan in his party if he suspected wrongdoing, Khan said, “We always thought they were just allegations. And he defended himself. But when I asked the vice-chairman of the Lahore Development Authority [about Aleem], he showed me on a map how he had occupied government land. This was around the end of my second year, and the beginning of the third year of my government.” Khan was unequivocal that until the time Gen Bajwa asked him to make Khan the Punjab chief minister, things were fine.

“They were organised, you could get their help, we were on the same page regarding foreign policy. It was just the last six months, the issue of them making deals with these crooks when they should be behind bars…” To emphasise his point about the military’s influence over accountability cases, he said: “The army was going after these people before I came to power. 95 per cent of these cases preceded my government. The Nawaz Sharif case, the Avenfield case… he would not have got convicted had the army not provided the two brigadiers in the JITs — that was before me.” Khan quelled allegations that the 2018 elections were rigged, insisting that he came to power because of his popularity and not because he was the ”military’s darling.” “The army did not back me in the 2018 election. I believe we won freely and fairly,” he added.

Gen Bajwa, 61, is expected to retire on November 29 after getting a three-year extension when Khan was the prime minister.

Khan has been at the loggerheads with the Army for a few months after his ouster as the prime minister in April.

Khan, who was injured in an assassination bid on Thursday, alleged that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Major General Faisal Naseer were part of a sinister plot to assassinate him in the same way former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 by a religious extremist.

The powerful Army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.

Khan has repeated the names of three persons for their alleged involvement in the attack.

He urged his followers to continue protests across the country until the three of them resigned.

The Pakistan Army on Saturday rejected as ”baseless and irresponsible” the allegations made by Khan that one of its senior officers was among the people involved in the conspiracy to kill him.

When Khan was in power, the opposition accused him of trying to bring an army chief of his choice who could support his alleged agenda of victimising opposition leaders.

Since he lost power in April this year, the equation has changed and now Khan is saying that the coalition government wants to install an Army head of its choice to protect looted wealth and steal general elections.

Last week, Khan had admitted that he offered an extension to the tenure of Army chief Bajwa in March amid the opposition’s attempt to topple his government.

Khan also rejected as ”untrue” claims made by Prime Minister Sharif that the opposition leader sent him a message expressing his desire to have a consultation over the appointment of the Army chief and elections.

Prime Minister Sharif had claimed that he had flatly rejected a proposal from his predecessor on the appointment of a successor to Army chief Gen. Bajwa.

Since he was ousted from power in April, the cricketer-turned-politician has repeatedly claimed that the no-trust motion against him was the result of a ”foreign conspiracy”.

Khan has since launched a political blitz calling for a snap election.

He was leading a protest march against the government to press it for a snap election when he was injured in the assassination bid.

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