Imran Khan Seeks Talks as Pakistan Weighs a Ban on His Party
(Bloomberg) -- Embattled leader Imran Khan offered to hold talks with Pakistan’s government and the powerful military after his party was threatened with a ban while a sweeping crackdown saw many of his closest associates quit the group.
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Khan, 70, said he is ready to form a committee to talk with “anyone who is in power today,” in what appears to be a bid to ease a stand-off with the military establishment. It came hours after the government said it was considering banning Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
“If they can convince this committee that they have a solution and that the country will do better without Imran Khan, I am ready to step aside,” he told reporters and supporters at his heavily guarded home in Lahore. “Or if they can tell the committee how the country could benefit from holding elections in October.”
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said in a televised address earlier Wednesday that Khan’s party was behind the violence on May 9 when the politician was briefly arrested by Pakistan’s graft agency, which saw some groups attack military offices and buildings.
“It was pre-planned, so in this background there are chances we consider to ban the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party,” Asif said. “No decision has yet been taken,” he added.
Those protests are considered individual actions and a party cannot be banned on those grounds, Senator Syed Ali Zafar who is one of Khan’s lawyers, told reporters in Islamabad. “If such a step is taken I am sure this court will cancel it instantly.”
There is a precedent for such a step in the South Asian nation. At least five political parties have been banned in recent decades. These include the Communist Party which was outlawed in 1954, accused of attempting to overthrow the government. The most recent was Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which was banned in April 2021 amid allegations of links with hostile nations. The decision was overturned later that year by then-Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The last few weeks have seen a sweeping government crackdown on Khan’s party. Several top leaders are now in prison and some two dozen have quit the party, dealing a blow to the embattled opposition leader.
The latest to leave was Fawad Chaudhry, a former information minister in Khan’s cabinet. A long-time party stalwart, Chaudhry has been in the forefront of the party’s push to hold early elections after Khan was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote last April.
Before him was Shireen Mazari, former human rights minister, who quit after being detained multiple times over the past few weeks. She said she was leaving the party and politics entirely, citing health and family reasons.
The military has warned of stern action against protesters who attacked its properties. The army and the government have also vowed to try those responsible under military law.
More than 10,000 people, including PTI members, supporters and their families, have been arrested by police in raids across the nation since Khan stepped up his campaign for early elections this year. That demand brought him into direct confrontation with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who has said stabilizing the economy needs to be the priority.
Pakistan is grappling with the worst economic crisis in its history and is on the brink of a default. An agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a $6.7 billion bailout is still out of reach amid low forex reserves and soaring inflation.
--With assistance from Francesca Stevens.
(Recasts lead, updates with details throughout)
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