Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has demanded emergency talks with state officials amid mounting pressure on him following a crackdown on top aides and supporters that resulted in jailing of thousands of people and the abandonment of his party.
Since Khan was ousted from office last year in a legislative vote he says was manipulated by senior army generals, he has been embroiled in a dispute with the army, but the armed forces disputed this.
The clash escalated when earlier this month Khan’s supporters were involved in violent protests after his brief arrest on May 9.
As Pakistan endures its biggest economic crisis in decades, political unrest has intensified.
Inflation is at an all-time high, economic development is slow and there are fears that the government will fail to repay its foreign loans unless the International Monetary Fund cancels deferred payments.
The majority of Khan’s top advisers were arrested shortly after his supporters stormed and burned down a number of military installations across the country. Many were released and subsequently resigned from Khan’s party. Dozens of additional middle managers also left.
Khan said they were forced to resign under duress in an effort to weaken him and dismantle his party. He distanced his party from attacks on military installations during the unrest following his arrest and reiterated a call for an investigation to determine who was involved.
Members of Khan’s party said they were leaving of their own free will. Many of them spoke of concerns for their families and their health.
The former prime minister, however, struck a defiant tone, warning that his party’s popularity was only growing due to the crackdown and that he would always win an election whenever it was held. He said he only wanted to talk to get the country out of the current crisis.
A national election is scheduled for November and polls show Khan remains the country’s most popular leader.
Khan had said earlier this week that he would set up a committee to conduct negotiations.
He says previous attempts to talk to the country’s powerful generals went unanswered. The civilian government, a coalition of his political rivals, has not indicated it is willing to talk as the crackdown on his party continues.
The 33 defendants are among thousands detained since Khan’s arrest on May 9 sparked violent protests across Pakistan.
Khan was arrested for bribery, which he denies, and later released on bail.
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