PTI Chairman Imran Khan has defended his ‘controversial’ remarks about the top military brass, saying “under any circumstances, thieves cannot be allowed to appoint the next army chief”.

“New army chief should be appointed on merit. Thieves cannot be allowed to pick the new army chief,” Imran said while addressing a public gathering in Peshawar on Tuesday.

The ousted premier said a “cabal of crooks” is running propaganda against him to pit his party against the army.

“Every well-wisher of any institution will speak about merit because institutions can only progress when they are strengthened.”

Imran, while referring to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo and three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, asked the charged crowd, “Should a ‘thieve, absconder and convict’ be allowed to appoint Pakistan’s army chief?”

“They are trying to pit Pakistan’s biggest political party against the army… they are planning to disqualify me first and then to turn Pakistan’s institutions including the judiciary against me through propaganda…”

The ousted premier while responding to allegations of the PML-N-led coalition government said those who are labelling him as anti-army themselves targeted Pakistan’s institutions including the military in the past.

He also played the ruling party leaders’ video statements against the military.

Referring to Dawn Leaks, the PTI chief said the Sharif brothers sent a message to India that Pakistan’s army was supporting terrorism while they had no role in it.

“Likewise, Zardari through Hussian Haqqani asked a US official to save his government from the military,” Imran said while referring to the Memogate scandal

“Should we hand over such an important decision-making to these thieves? No, we will never,” he vowed.

The former premier said unlike his opponents his criticism of the military is always positive. Rejecting the allegations that his statement was anti-army, the PTI chief said he never wanted to weaken the army as Pakistan has been spared by “wrath” that other Muslim countries had faced due to the strong army.

Imran further said he always respected the judiciary including lower courts “because justice cannot be ensured without free judiciary”.

Speaking about his controversial remarks due to which he is facing contempt proceedings, the former prime minister said he “might” have passed harsh words against additional sessions and district judge Zeba Chaudhry unintentionally due to the alleged torture on party leader Shahbaz Gill in the police custody.

“I have never allowed my party to attack the judiciary. I respect my judiciary and lower courts as well. I did not want to threaten any judge and it was not my intention,” he clarified.

Imran said the coalition partners – including PML-N, PPP and JUI-F – were trying to disqualify him through their “puppet” Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja. “These stooges have realised they cannot win this match and they will lose elections whenever they are held.”

The PTI chief said the incumbent rulers came into power through a “foreign conspiracy engineered by the United States “to save themselves from accountability. “Because if I stayed in power, they all will be convicted of corruption and put behind bars.”

Imran also asked his supporters to remain prepared for his call for the real freedom “as come what may, we will never accept them [government]”.

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