Former prime minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday asked the “neutrals” why they did not defend the country against the “conspiracy” to oust his government and reiterated that fair and transparent elections were the “only way out” of the crises the country was facing.

Addressing a huge rally in Dir, he said, “We ask the neutrals … when your work is to defend the country and it was discovered that this cipher had come and [US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia] Donald Lu told our ambassador to oust Imran Khan … when the National Security Committee (NSC) said interference happened and issued a demarche to the US, was it not the work of those whose job it is to defend the country to stop this conspiracy instead of being neutral?”

Imran has claimed that a US-backed regime change was the reason his government was ousted. He has called for sacking Lu, who he accuses of telling Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, that a failure to remove the PTI government through a no-confidence vote would herald “consequences” for Pakistan.

During his address, the PTI chairman also lashed out at incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and asked him why he had “participated” in the conspiracy if he could not govern.

At the start of his speech, Imran appreciated the crowd’s enthusiasm, telling them he had decided to start the rally early when he came to know the ground had been filled by 2:30pm.

He claimed that the US, Israel and India were involved in the conspiracy to oust his government and “impose” Shehbaz on the country not because the incumbent prime minister had “any capabilities but because he would obey all orders from his masters”.

Shehbaz had taken the first order from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by raising the prices of fuel and electricity, he said, alleging that the US was behind the move.

“He (Shehbaz) increased inflation so much. No one who has any humanity could do this. He increased the prices of petrol … by Rs60.”

Imran alleged that the IMF had also pressured his government to increase fuel and electricity prices by Rs10 but he had instead decreased them by Rs10 per litre and Rs4 per unit, respectively. “Imran will live and die in Pakistan. He does not bow before anyone.”

The PTI government wanted to protect the people from the impact of global inflation, he said.

“When prices are raised, salaried people cannot afford monthly expenses. Everything becomes expensive such as transport and school fees. That is why we had [maintained fuel prices] to protect people.”

Highlighting his government’s performance, Imran said that during his tenure, tax collection reached a record level, two crops saw record yields for two years, average income increased from Rs16,180 to Rs26,300, and health insurance and Ehsaas social security programmes were introduced.

“Imran Khan’s wealth and businesses are not abroad. He will live and die in Pakistan but the imported government leaders, Asif Ali Zardari, Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif’s wealth is outside the country. Their looted money is abroad.”

He added that previous governments of the PPP and the PML-N were ousted because of corruption but his government was removed on the pretext of inflation. However, the real reason for the PTI government’s removal was so “US puppets” could be imposed, he claimed.

The PTI chairman then criticised Shehbaz, amid loud cheers and slogans of thief, saying that the incumbent premier looked “worried and afraid” nowadays.

“I want to ask you, Shehbaz Sharif, if you could not govern, why did you do this conspiracy?” he questioned. “They (the coalition government) are saying everything happened because of Imran Khan. Then you should have let Imran Khan remain in power.”

When the previous PML-N government completed its tenure in 2018, fiscal deficit and circular debt were at a record high but the PTI government lifted the country out of difficult situations, the ex-premier said.

“Do not run away or go to Turkey. Work here,” he said, while addressing Shehbaz. “Does Shehbaz go to office at 7am to carry out the economic murder of the masses? Shehbaz’s work [as chief minister] was done only through advertisements.”

He claimed that the then-opposition had come to power only to save themselves. He welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to take suo motu notice of perceived interference in criminal proceedings and said the entire country was waiting to see if only petty thieves were sent to prison or “big dacoits” also went to jail.

“They were brought to power because corrupt people cannot take a stand for national interests,” he alleged.

Imran said the country had been on a downwards trajectory since the PML-N-led coalition government came to power and noted that while inflation had risen, the rupee and foreign exchange reserves had fallen.

The country was in danger, he warned and added that as per the National Security Policy that was unveiled during the PTI government, the army alone could not protect the country unless its economy was also strong.

“The Soviet Union was a power that rivalled the US but when its economy went down, it broke into pieces. If leaders like me do not tell [the nation] where the country is going, we will make a mistake.”

The incumbent government had crushed the people in a month, he said, reiterating his demand for early elections.

“There is only way out — fair and transparent elections. Entire Pakistan is ready for elections and wants this imported government [to go] … Pakistan’s people should be allowed to decide the government they want. The US, Israel and India should not make this decision.”

The PTI chairman also accused the incumbent government of “colluding” with the Election Commission of Pakistan to “steal the elections”.

He urged the youth to stand up against the “American puppets”, saying history would not forgive them if they failed to do so.

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