Ex-PM Khan begins ‘long march’ for early elections in Pakistan

Ex-PM Khan begins ‘long march’ for early elections in Pakistan


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday launched a so-called “long march” into the capital Islamabad to call for snap elections and to put pressure on a government already mired in crisis.

The former international cricket star was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote in April after some of his coalition partners defected, but he retains broad public support in the South Asian country.

Thousands of people gathered in the eastern city of Lahore, from where a convoy made the 380-kilometer (240-mile) journey to the capital, which is expected to take around a week, with rallies planned along the route.

“We must rid the country of looters and thieves who are taking the country’s money for their own interests,” said supporter Muhammad Mazhar, 36.

“We have to save the country and change this system, so I support Imran Khan.”

Khan was elected to power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform by an electorate weary of dynastic politics.

But his mishandling of the economy – and falling out with a military man accused of aiding his rise – sealed his fate.

He has since railed against the establishment and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, which was imposed on Pakistan by a “conspiracy” involving the United States.

“This nation is ready to make any sacrifice, but it will not accept thieves. The aim of the march is that people should make their own decisions,” Khan told the crowd from the top of a shipping container.

Parts of his speech, which were addressed to military and intelligence chiefs, were censored by Pakistani television channels.

– Military Influence –

Khan, who has dodged several legal challenges, has already staged a number of well-attended rallies to show his popularity and won six out of eight by-elections earlier this month.

Sadia Mehmood, a 21-year-old university student, told AFP she is marching for the restoration of democracy.

“The army is already scared and criminals in Islamabad are worried and should be worried,” she said. “Your time is up.”

The political infighting has overshadowed relief efforts in the wake of devastating floods that submerged a third of the country – and a repair bill of at least $30 billion.

Pakistan’s economy also remains in a sorry state, with high inflation, a plummeting rupee and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

On Thursday, the head of the country’s main intelligence agency and chief of military public relations held an unprecedented press conference in which they defended the institutions against Khan’s accusations of meddling in politics.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for much of its 75-year history, and criticism of the security apparatus has long been seen as a red line.

The establishment came under further scrutiny this week after the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif by police in Kenya, where he fled to avoid charges of sedition.

Kenyan officials say Sharif’s death was a case of mistaken identity, but it has sparked speculation of a targeted killing and the Pakistani government has ordered an official inquiry.

The funeral of Sharif – a harsh critic of Pakistan’s military apparatus – was attended by tens of thousands of Khan supporters who chanted “Arshad, your blood will bring revolution”.

More to explorer