Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan said Saturday that his party has decided to resign from several regional legislatures in the latest twist in months of political turmoil in the country.
Khan made the unexpected political move while addressing tens of thousands of supporters of his opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The populist 70-year-old former prime minister has been leading big protest rallies across the country to push his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, into holding snap general elections. Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April.
“We wouldn’t be [a] part of this system anymore. We have decided to quit all the assemblies and get out of this corrupt system,” Khan told the cheering crowd gathered just outside the capital, Islamabad.
He said he would soon hold a meeting of senior party leaders to decide on a timetable for all PTI lawmakers to resign en masse from regional legislative assemblies.
No march to Islamabad
Khan had vowed to march on the Pakistani capital with his supporters but announced Saturday he had decided to end that campaign.
“We could have created a situation like Sri Lanka. I have decided against marching on Islamabad because I don’t want destruction and chaos in the country,” he said.
The cricket-star-turned-politician was attending his first public rally since being shot and wounded in the legs in an assassination attempt at an anti-government rally earlier this month in Punjab, the most populous province ruled by a PTI-led coalition.
Khan blames Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a senior general of the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), accusing them of being behind the November 3 shooting that left a PTI worker dead and wounded at least a dozen others.
The government has denied allegations that it had anything to do with the attack.
The PTI controls two of Pakistan’s four provinces, including northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It also governs and commands a majority in the legislative assemblies of what is known as the Gilgit-Baltistan territory and the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. Archrival India administers two-thirds of the disputed Himalayan region.
Khan rejects the April no-confidence vote as an unlawful action, blaming Sharif and Pakistan’s outgoing military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for colluding with the United States to topple his government.
Islamabad and Washington deny the allegations.
Khan’s party resigned from the National Assembly, the lower house of the national parliament, after he lost the vote and Sharif replaced him as the new prime minister.
The Pakistani government has also rejected his demand for early elections, saying the next polls in the country will be held as scheduled in October 2023.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari described Khan’s protest rally Saturday as a “face-saving flop show.” He said on Twitter: “Unable to pull revolution crowds, failed at undermining appointments of new chiefs, frustrated, resorts to resignation drama.”
Sharif appointed General Asim Munir as the new army chief. He is to take charge from Bajwa on Tuesday.
The government alleges Khan organized Saturday’s protest to try to block Munir’s appointment.
The military wields outsized influence over the national politics, and political parties say the institution’s backing is key for the survival of elected governments in Pakistan.
The military has directly ruled the nuclear-armed country for about half of its history since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Former prime ministers say the army continues to dictate matters related to foreign and security polices, and orchestrates the toppling of governments if they don’t fall in line.
Pakistan’s political turmoil comes as Sharif’s coalition government grapples with critical economic challenges amid ever soaring inflation, depleting foreign exchange reserves and declining foreign investments.
Officials say the country’s economic troubles were exacerbated by the catastrophic floods this summer that severely undermined growth and caused at least $40 billion in damage and affected 33 million Pakistanis.