Shahbaz Gill makes ‘reconciliatory gestures’ at PTI rally near White House

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PTI workers hold a demonstration at McPherson Square near the White House in Washington DC.—Photo by the writer

WASHINGTON: Shahbaz Gill, former chief of staff to ousted prime minister Imran Khan, extended an olive branch to the establishment during a Sunday rally near the White House.

In a 27-minute speech at the protest rally, he stressed the army’s role in defusing political tensions in Pakistan, declaring, “It’s our army, our army chief; we love them.” Mr Gill emphasised the need to work with the army and condemned those trying to pit PTI against the establishment, stating, “They are enemies of Imran Khan and the party. They are not well-wishers.”

Half of his address focused on acknowledging the army’s role in defending the country and during natural disasters, emphasising the need to work with, not against, the army to defuse the current political impasse.

Mr Gill’s plea for the army’s involvement echoed sentiments expressed in a tweet hours before his speech: “Army Chief General Asim Munir, your intervention is requested and needed in this moment. The people of Pakistan have given their mandate in favour of Imran Khan. Some sinister elements are trying to steal the public mandate and rig the election results.”

Houston demo urges US not to recognise poll results until probe into ‘irregularities’

Shahbaz Gill appealed to the army to disregard those “trying to use our armed forces to suppress people’s peaceful reaction against election rigging” and requested the army chief to take action against these sinister attempts.

“As the head of the Pakistan Army, please step in … and reprimand these negative elements from using our national institution against the people of Pakistan,” he added.

Mr Gill criticised those who found fault with his tweet. “Is it wrong to defuse tensions? Is it wrong to seek to avoid a clash between the people and their arm­ed forces, to urge the army chief to play a positive role?” he asked.

His fervent articulation led some in the crowd to speculate if this positive change indicated a policy shift within PTI as it endeavours to translate its electoral supremacy into a tangible victory.

Mr Gill’s remarks marked a significant departure from earlier speeches and slogans at the rally that emphasised the need for the army to stay away from politics. “One country, one constitution” was a favoured slogan before Mr Gill arrived.

Speculations abounded as the crowd dispersed, with some wondering if Mr Gill received instructions from the PTI headquarters to extend an olive branch to the establishment. Others pondered if PTI was adopting a softer stance to gain favour with the army and secure an invitation to form the next government as the largest group in parliament.

If this indeed was a message from the headquarters, it appeared to have missed Texas, where party leaders concentrated on perceived attempts to manipulate the election results.

Atif Khan, a senior PTI USA leader, emphasised at a Houston protest rally that overseas Pakistanis must defend the rights of their fellow citizens and advocate for a thorough investigation into alleged election irregularities. He welcomed the US State Depart­ment’s statement but urged the Biden administration not to recognise the election results until a satisfactory investigation is completed, citing support from key US lawmakers.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2024