ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Faced with the almost certain prospect of being removed from office in days by a vote of no confidence, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan on Thursday refused to resign in a defiant speech, denouncing his allegations of a foreign conspiracy against him and deepening a political crisis that grips the country for weeks.
In a televised speech, Mr Khan accused the United States of conspiring to overthrow his government by mounting a political campaign to remove him from office. He also stated that he will face the no-confidence vote in parliament, expected on Sunday, despite losing a parliamentary majority this week.
“I never accepted defeat,” said Mr Khan, the former international cricketer turned politician. “I always fight to the last ball. I want the whole nation to see on that day who sold their conscience.”
For weeks, Pakistan has been gripped by a political crisis after Mr Khan, 69, appeared to lose support from the country’s powerful military last year and a coalition of opposition parties voted to vote him out of office this month.
The tide appeared to be turning against him this week after some members of his political party defected and several parties in his governing coalition split.
With his political support slipping, Mr Khan has made an effort to keep his coalition intact: He gathered thousands of supporters at a rally in Islamabad on Sunday, replaced the Punjab prime minister to maintain the support of an allied party and repeatedly denounced opponents as part of a foreign conspiracy against him.
In recent days, he has centered his political messages around an alleged letter containing threats against his government. Officials said the letter was written by a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, who made threats from a “senior foreign official”.
“We have received an official document that we have to say is against our people,” Khan said in Thursday’s speech, adding that the letter warned that “Pakistan could have serious consequences if I don’t survive trust.”
At a political rally on Sunday, he showed a piece of paper he had taken from his pocket that he said was evidence of a foreign conspiracy, but did not say by which country. He has revealed few other details about the letter and has not provided a copy to Parliament or the news media.
In his speech on Thursday, he identified the threatening country as the United States, which has long been a favorite target of his political speeches.
He said US officials said Pakistan “will have to suffer” if he remains prime minister.
“No reason has been given,” he said. “They treat Pakistan as if we are their slaves.”
US officials rejected Mr Khan’s characterization of the events.
“There is no truth to these allegations,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Thursday, on condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic protocol.
Opposition politicians have questioned the letter’s authenticity and Pakistani security officials have dismissed it as an internal diplomatic communication that Mr Khan misrepresented.
The political crisis comes as Pakistan, home to 220 million people and the world’s second largest Muslim population, struggles with double-digit inflation that has pushed the cost of basic commodities, such as food and fuel, out of reach for many Pakistanis. The economic challenges have fueled criticism that Mr Khan has mismanaged the economy and failed to deliver on his touchstone promise of creating an Islamic welfare state.
As discontent with his government grew, his opponents announced their intention to table a vote of no confidence in parliament. Since obtaining the votes needed to remove him from office, opposition leaders have urged him to step down and attacked his claims that an international conspiracy would undermine the country’s democratic process.
“Some people have advised him to call a democratic process an international conspiracy,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party. “They only do it for their own interests, not for the national interest. This is against the country. This is against our constitution, democracy and the nation.”
Lawmakers were expected to begin debate on the no-confidence motion on Thursday evening, but the National Assembly session was suspended within minutes of opening following a vociferous opposition protest as the government tried to delay the debate.
If Khan is voted out of office, lawmakers will elect an interim prime minister to serve until the next general election, scheduled for 2023. Many analysts expect them to select Shehbaz Sharif, an opposition leader.
Mr Sharif is the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and is the former Prime Minister of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province in the country.
In his speech Thursday evening, Mr. Khan broke the record of three and a half years of his reign, claiming that he outperformed the previous reigns of his rivals, highlighting the past achievements in his life.
“I am a very happy person,” he said. “God gave me everything, fame, money.” He said he entered politics to make Pakistan an independent, self-respecting country.
Mr Khan also warned that even if he lost the vote of no confidence, he would fail the conspiracy against him, suggesting he could try to return to parliament as a member of the opposition.
“People will not forget or forgive you,” he said, referring to his opponents. “Nor will they forgive those who treat you. People will always remember that you sold your land. Through a foreign conspiracy you tried to overthrow a government that had an independent foreign policy.”
Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Christina Goldbaum from Kabul, Afghanistan.