(Bloomberg) -- Imran Khan said Pakistan’s military establishment wanted to stop his opposition party from winning the next election, paving the way for a weak government as the country seeks to stave off a financial crisis.
Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg on Friday evening at his heavily guarded home in Lahore, Khan cited the government and military’s push to arrest his supporters as evidence it’s looking to “crush” his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf before a vote that must be held by mid-October. Authorities have said they want to hold accountable anyone who attacked military buildings following his brief time in detention in May.
The former prime minister, who is now far ahead in popularity surveys despite losing power in a parliamentary confidence vote last year, denied his supporters and the PTI party were behind the attacks. He accused the government of using the incident as a pretext to carry out an “unprecedented crackdown.”
“It’s all dependent on the establishment feeling that PTI will no longer be able to win the elections,” Khan said. “Once they are sure of that, then they’ll announce elections.”
Representatives of the government and the military didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment on Khan’s claims. Both have previously said that Khan and his supporters crossed the line with the attacks on state-owned property.
Pakistan’s military is the nation’s most powerful institution, holding an outsized role in foreign and security policies while ruling directly for much of the country’s modern history. Most prime ministers have depended on the institution’s support to stay in power, including Khan, but his ties worsened after he attempted to influence army appointments.
In recent months, Khan has stepped up his anti-army rhetoric, breaking a long-established taboo preventing politicians from criticizing the army. He also accused the military of being part of a plan to remove him from power and identified a senior officer of plotting to assassinate him, allegations the generals have persistently denied.
In the interview, Khan said it would be hard for any party to win a strong mandate, leading to a fractured government to grapple with a dire financial situation that has forced his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, to seek help from the International Monetary Fund and bilateral donors. The opposition leader blamed the current crisis on mismanagement by Sharif’s government.
Other parties are now seeking to win over his supporters, he said, including former ally Muttahida Quami Movement — a party that has strong support in the financial center of Karachi — and a new potential group of former PTI politicians.
“It’s not what Pakistan needs,” Khan said. “When you have a huge crisis, you look back in history, only very strong governments have dealt with crises.”
The political chaos has unfolded as Pakistan endures the worst economic crisis in its history. Consumer prices rose to an all-time high this week, growth estimates were slashed, and the prospect of a default has risen.
Khan said he has no doubt that a new IMF program is needed. Should he come back to power, Khan wants to lure investment from the Pakistani diaspora — a key source of funding and support for him. He also said he wants to rectify loss-making companies and help small exporters to grow.
Khan said public support for him and his party was growing even as many key politicians were exiting.
“The government is just a puppet government,” said Khan, who has been barred from leaving the country. “A government which is now latching onto the military establishment because they know that if there are elections, they’ll be wiped out.”
(Adds Khan comment on Sharif government in eighth paragraph.)
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