A debate on a no-confidence motion against Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been postponed after Khan rejected opposition calls for him to resign.
The debate was due to start on March 31, but the deputy speaker suspended proceedings when legislators declined to first address other items on the agenda. Parliament will reconvene on April 3.
Khan is facing his biggest challenge since being elected in 2018. His Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf party (PTI) effectively lost its majority in the 342-member National Assembly on March 30 when a coalition partner said it would vote with the opposition.
More than a dozen PTI lawmakers had already indicated they would support the no-confidence vote, but the party has been attempting to win them back.
The opposition accuses Khan of mismanaging the economy and foreign policy, and political analysts also say he has fallen out with Pakistan's powerful military, whose support is critical for any party to attain power.
Khan addressed the nation late on March 31, appearing to accuse the United States of meddling in Pakistan's affairs. He referred to a message that he said Pakistan received “not from America” but from “a foreign country I can't name.”
He said the "official document" was evidence of the conspiracy.
The document “says we will forgive Pakistan if Imran Khan loses this no-confidence vote. But if it fails Pakistan will have to face tough time," Khan said.
Local media have reported the message was in a briefing letter from Pakistan's ambassador to Washington recording a senior U.S. official telling him they felt relations would be better if Khan left office.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters there was "no truth" to the allegations.
"We are closely following developments in Pakistan. We respect [and] we support Pakistan's constitutional process and the rule of law," Price said.
When the National Assembly begins debate on the no-confidence vote, it is expected to hear from Ali Wazir, an elected member of the National Assembly from South Waziristan and a leader of the civil rights Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
The Sindh provincial government temporarily released Wazir, Karachi jail police chief Hassan Suto told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal.
Mohsin Dawar, leader of the Pakistan National Republican Movement and an elected member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan, told Radio Mashaal that Wazir had been released on parole by the Sindh government and had arrived in Islamabad.
Wazir was arrested on December 16, 2020, and charged with making an “anti-state speech” during an unsanctioned rally in Karachi in which he criticized the country’s powerful military.
Another case was filed against him for allegedly inciting people against the state during a PTM meeting in May 2018. He denies both accusations.
The PTM has campaigned since 2018 for the rights of Pakistan’s estimated 35 million ethnic Pashtuns, many of whom live near the border with Afghanistan where the military has conducted campaigns against militants.
The group has attracted tens of thousands of people to public rallies in recent years to denounce the Pakistani Army's heavy-handed tactics, which have killed thousands of Pashtun civilians and forced millions more to abandon their homes since 2003.