Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday reacted sharply to his predecessor Imran Khan's controversial comments about "breaking Pakistan into three pieces" and said the former premier was "unfit" for any public office after his latest utterances.
Khan in an interview with Bol News on Wednesday talked, among other things, about possible breakup of the country if the right decisions were not made.
Shehbaz Sharif, who is on an official visit to Turkey, taking strong exception to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief's choice of language in the interview, especially those about breaking up the country, accusing him of "making naked threats against the country", and warned him against "talking about [the] division of Pakistan".
“While I am in Turkey inking agreements, Imran Niazi is making naked threats against the country. If at all any proof was needed that Niazi is unfit for public office, his latest interview suffices," the prime minister tweeted.
"Do your politics but don't dare to cross limits and talk about division of Pakistan,” he added.
According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, the former prime minister admitted in the interview that he did not enjoy absolute power as the prime minister, indicating that the actual centres of power in the country lied elsewhere and that "everyone knows where that is".
Khan, who came to power in 2018, reportedly with the backing of the military, is the only Pakistani prime minister to be ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He was replaced by PML-N's Shehbaz Sharif.
The Pakistan Army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 73 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy. However, the army has continuously denied its involvement in politics.
When asked to recall the events of the night of the no-confidence vote against him, who was issuing orders and who had impeded the cases against the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, Khan said his government had been "weak" when it came to power and had to seek coalition partners, adding that if the same situation were to arise again, he would opt for re elections and seek a majority government or none at all.
"Our hands were tied. We were blackmailed from everywhere. Power wasn't with us. Everyone knows where the power lies in Pakistan so we had to rely on them," he said without elaborating any further who he was referring to.
In a separate statement shared on the PML-N's Twitter, the premier said Imran's remarks were proof that the PTI chief was "involved in a conspiracy, not politics".
He said Khan was spreading "chaos" due to his "frustration and sick mentality", and that his statement was similar to those of Pakistan's enemies.
"This is not a statement but a conspiracy to spark the fire of anarchy and division in the country," Shehbaz said.
"Losing power does not mean that you wage a war against Pakistan, its unity and its institutions," he said, warning Imran not to "attack" the federation and country's institutions. "Don't exceed the limits [defined] by the law and Constitution."
Earlier, condemning Khan's remarks, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari said: "Imran Khan, power is not everything in this world. Be brave and learn to do politics standing on your own feet," PPP's twitter handle quoted Zardari as telling the PTI chief, adding that the wish of "dividing" Pakistan could not be realised "until we and our future generations live".
The former premier in the interview warned that once Pakistan is destroyed, it will default, and the international world will ask the country to move towards denuclearisation - as Ukraine did in the 1990s.
Khan said that if Pakistan were to lose its nuclear deterrent capability, it would be fragmented into three pieces. "If the right decisions aren't made at this time then the country is going towards suicide," he warned.
Information Minister Maryam Nawaz Aurangzeb also criticised Khan's remarks.
Describing Khan's mental illness "at the final stage of madness", Aurangzeb said: "Such a person roaming freely in Pakistan is dangerous and he has shown it repeatedly."
The former prime minister's remarks, which were also discussed in the Senate on Thursday, were termed to have given rise to a "feeling of anxiety" in the country.
During his address in the house, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said Wednesday's remarks could not come from a person who had held the highest public office in Pakistan except when there was a "conspiracy".
"This is the matter of Pakistan's security," he said. "The way the former prime minister has spoken is dangerous for national security."
Saying that Khan had "bipolar disorder", Senator Asif Kirmani added: "Such patients are treated through electric shocks."
PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gilani said: "To say that the country will break into three pieces, you shouldn't say this as a Pakistani. Then to say that the establishment or the army will be destroyed, [our] enemies say the same. Then to say that the country will go bankrupt and our nuclear assets will also be taken away, we condemn this."