Islamabad, Pakistan – Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says everyone in Pakistan condemned attacks on military installations during deadly protests over his arrest last week.
“Who does not condemn the attack on the house of the commander of the Lahore corps? Tell me one person in Pakistan who doesn’t do this,” he told a news conference at his residence in Lahore in the east of the country on Thursday.
On May 9, Khan was dramatically stopped accused of corruption as they appeared in court in the capital, Islamabad. Two days later, the Supreme Court declared his arrest unlawful and another court in Islamabad ordered his release on May 12.
Shortly after Khan’s arrest, a crowd of his suspected supporters stormed the residence of a senior military commander in Lahore and set it on fire.
Several other army installations were also attacked across the country as angry Khan supporters accused the powerful military of orchestrating his arrest.
But Khan on Thursday denied that his supporters were behind the arson and alleged a conspiracy to entrap him and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party over the incident.
“The burning of this old building is a deliberate ploy to blame us,” said the 70-year-old opposition leader. “In 27 years [of his political career], have I ever asked to turn to fires and riots? I have always spoken of peaceful demonstrations within the framework of the law and the constitution.
Khan repeated the statement on Friday when he appeared before an anti-terrorism court in Lahore which granted him protection from arrest for vandalizing the military commander’s residence.
“There is no Pakistani who will not condemn this attack,” he told reporters inside the court.
Khan’s muted criticism of attacks on military infrastructure came after more than a dozen top PTI leaders left the party following the May 9 violence and subsequent government crackdown in which at least 10 people died and more than 4,000 were arrested.
Pakistani authorities have said they will try suspects who attacked military installations under the draconian army lawa move condemned by rights groups who say such trials are never fair.
Mahmood Moulvi, a senior PTI leader from the southern city of Karachi and a former parliamentarian, told Al Jazeera there was only “one reason” why he decided to quit Khan’s party.
“Nowhere in the world does a nation fight against its own army. My decision to resign was simply because we don’t have to fight our own institutions, especially the one we go to for help whenever there is an emergency,” he told Al Jazeera.
Moulvi said there was an unfortunate trend in Pakistan where every political party changed its tune when it was ousted from power.
“It’s our story. Whenever a political party, be it the PTI or any other, when it is in power, it says that the establishment is the best. But as soon as they come out, they start criticizing them. While the military should not be part of this policy, these parties often drag it out,” he told Al Jazeera.
In response, Taimur Khan Jhagra, a former PTI minister in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, alleged that members of his party were being forced to resign.
“It’s an old part of Pakistani politics. Some have backbone, others may not have character, others will truly be good weather friends. But this kind of political engineering can break weaker parties. It won’t break the PTI, where Khan has a direct relationship with his people. The PTI will emerge stronger but the damage to democracy will take a long, long time to heal,” he told Al Jazeera.
At his press conference on Thursday, Khan spoke in a reconciliatory tone as political tensions gripped the nuclear-armed country.
“Who fights his own army? If someone fights [their] the army, the country will be the only loser,” he said. “My fight is not with them [army]. They’re mad at me, and I still don’t know why.
He also tweeted his sympathies for colleagues who deserted his party.
“My sympathies go out to all those who, under pressure, were forced to leave the party. And I congratulate and salute all senior members who are resisting extreme pressure to leave the party,” he posted.
During this time, a the tense calm persists at Khan’s residence in the Zaman Park area of Lahore, where dozens of security forces have been deployed as authorities plan to search his residence for suspects behind the attacks on military installations.