The Pakistan Army on Saturday warned that no one will be allowed to create instability and chaos in the country, a day after the incalcitrant cleric and politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman set a two-day deadline for Prime Minister Imran Khan to step down. The hard-line cleric addressed a massive protest rally, dubbed "Azadi March", held on Friday to topple the incumbent government.
In his address to tens of thousands of protestors, the right-wing opposition leader said the "Gorbachev of Pakistan" must resign without testing the patience of peaceful protestors. He also said that only people of Pakistan and not any "institution" had the right to govern the country.
"We do not want conflict with our institutions. But we also want to see them to stay neutral. We give two days to the institutions (also) to decide if they will continue to support this government," he said on Friday.
"Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a senior politician. He should clarify which institution he is talking about. Pakistan's armed forces are an impartial state institution which always supports democratically elected governments," Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said in response to Rehman's remarks.
"Nobody would be allowed to create instability as the country cannot afford chaos," he warned.
Ghafoor said the army was neutral and supported democratically elected governments in accordance with the Constitution. He also defended the army's deployment during the 2018 general elections, saying it fulfilled the constitutional responsibility in the polls.
"If the opposition has any reservations [about the results], it can approach the relevant forums instead of levelling allegations on the streets," he added.
Ghafoor said in democracies issues should be resolved democratically and appreciated the contact between the protestors and the government. Reacting to Ghafoor's remarks, Rehman told the media after meeting with the opposition leaders that the military spokesman should avoid giving such statements which violate the neutrality of the army.
"This statement should have come from some politicians and not from the army," he said.
He also announced the Opposition would meet on Saturday to decide the future course of action, if the two-day deadline was not met by the prime minister Khan.
The much-hyped "Azadi March" led by Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) reached its final destination Islamabad on Thursday after it set off from the Sindh province and left Lahore on Wednesday.
Along with Rehman, leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) participated in the march held to topple Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government led by Prime Minister Khan.
Unfazed by the protest, Prime Minister Khan, while addressing a public rally in Gilgit-Baltistan on Friday, told the protesters congregated in Islamabad that when they run out of food, more will be sent to them, but their leaders should not expect any relief from him.
"Gone are the days when one used to use Islam to gain power. This is a new Pakistan. Sit however long you want. When your food runs out, we will send more. But we will not give you an (NRO)," he said.
National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was an ordinance issued in October 2007 granting pardon to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism.
"Who are they wishing to gain freedom from? I want the media to go there and ask people who they wish to free themselves from," Khan said, adding that all his opponents appear disjointed in their thoughts and aims.
The prime minister said the protest rally had made Pakistan's enemy happy.
"I will put all of them into jail," he said, in an apparent reference to former premier Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shehbaz, former President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.