Imran Khan ready to sit with PM Shehbaz on early polls issue: Sheikh Rashid


ISLAMABAD: Former in­­terior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said he is making efforts to clear “misunderstandings” between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the establishment, claiming that ex-premier Imran Khan is ready to sit with incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the issue of holding early elections if (early polls are) guaranteed by “powerful quarters”.

Mr Rashid, who as the head of the Awami National League-Pakistan remained part of the PTI-led coalition government, said that the PTI would stage a long march to the federal capital by the end of this month and the marchers would stay in Islamabad till the announcement of election date.

He was of the opinion that the PTI should not have confronted any state institutions rather the party should sit with the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) so that it could convince the commission on early polls. “I have started efforts yesterday to remove misunderstanding between them (PTI and the establishment),” he said in an interview with VOA correspondent Ali Furqan on Monday.

“I am in favour of peace with army, but in case of ‘war’ I will stand by Imran Khan,” Mr Rashid said.

He agreed that there was something wrong [in the last regime] due to which allies like the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) parted ways with the PTI. However, he said, “I was not expecting this from MQM.”

He said Mr Khan was ready to hold talks with the Sharif government for early general elections, but it required the guarantee of “powerful quarters”.

However, he dismissed the impression that PTI’s long march was aimed at inviting martial law. “Imran Khan does not want to shake hands with the leaders of Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government, but there can be talks regarding elections if the establishment guarantees,” he added.

When the PTI was in power, Mr Khan had said multiple times that he would never sit with Sharif-like “corrupt” leaders on “any issue”.

After the no-confidence vote against Mr Khan last month, the former opposition parties have formed a coalition government with PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif as its prime minister.

Mr Rashid said the army wanted to maintain the continuity of democracy and the only way to maintain it was to hold early elections, otherwise, neither PTI nor the PML-N-led government would survive.

The AML chief said: “Imran Khan is going to gather millions of people in Islamabad and in that case the country would go into a state of uncertainty which may lead to civil war.”

PTI chief Imran Khan earlier on Saturday announced a march towards Islamabad in the last week of May.

Mr Rashid said that if Mr Khan succeeded in bringing a large number of people to Islamabad, his politics would reign while his only demand was early elections. “The PTI does not want to topple the government, but the marchers will not return from Islamabad without announcement of the date of general elections,” he added.

Talking about the fall of the PTI government, he said there were “some misunderstandings with the institutions” which should not have happened. He said he was against a conflict with the army and still wanted “reconciliation”.

When asked to elaborate specific reasons that had caused differences between Mr Khan and the army, the minister refused to reply. However, he said, he had started making efforts from May 1 to remove the “misunderstanding”.

Mr Rashid said he had nothing to do with the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident, but he was clear that the present rulers would be “welcomed in a similar way wherever they go”.

On cases of incitement to violence at the holy mosque, he said he had spent many years in jail in fake cases in the past and was still ready for arrest. He said he had intended to retire from politics, but in the present circumstances he would take part in the elections at Mr Khan’s behest.