Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan has told BBC HARDtalk the military is petrified of an election, which is expected to take place later this year.

He said Pakistan was under "undeclared martial law" and alleged "fascists" were leading it into the "dark ages".

Mr Khan was elected in 2018, ruled for just under four years, and was then ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last year.

He said only free and fair elections would restore stability.

HARDtalk presenter Stephen Sackur asked the former Prime Minister if his current criticism of the military "meddling" in politics had arisen only since his relationship with the military cooled.

Mr Khan denied this, insisting his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is "the only party that was not created by military dictators". He alleges that this is why there has been a campaign to dismantle it.

Many critics argue that Mr Khan had the backing of the army during his rise to power, an allegation both sides reject. The military has heavily influenced Pakistan for most of its existence and is a crucial behind-the-scenes player in the country's politics.

In the last few months, the PTI has seen significant defections, and arrests of key members. But Mr Khan insists it is intact.

"How come, despite the establishment openly going against us, trying to dismantle us, how come after we are out of government, we won 30 out of 37 by-elections?"

He said the establishment had hoped that his removal from power would weaken his party. "Normally, it happens when you're out of power for quite a while. But instead, what happened was the party's popularity kept growing," Mr Khan said.

"They have tried everything. They have put 10,000 people in jail, including women and peaceful protesters."

Mr Khan's supporters have viewed him as a political outsider since the former Pakistan cricket captain founded his party 27 years ago.

He says he faces almost 200 charges including sedition, terrorism and abetting murder which he said has seen him shuttling between his tightly guarded home and the courts.

Mr Khan's arrest in May sparked nationwide protests that led to at least eight deathsImage source, EPAImage caption, Mr Khan's arrest in May sparked nationwide protests that led to at least eight deaths

His arrest from inside a court in May sparked nationwide protests, some involving violence.

When questioned by HARDTalk as to whether he had created an atmosphere of hostility to the military resulting in violence, the former international cricket star-turned-politician said he and his party had never advocated the use of violence and had a record of peaceful protest.

He said they had no involvement in the instances of attacks on military buildings, and said those cases need to be investigated separately.

Mr Khan has insisted that it was the military's actions which provoked the unrest when they sent soldiers instead of police officers to arrest him.

"What did you think the supporters would do when they saw the army, the commander, was picking me up from there? Was there not going to be a protest?"

Speaking to the BBC from Lahore, Mr Khan said: "The fact is that the country is on the brink of a major disaster. We are heading [into] what I feel like are the dark ages.

"The only solution to Pakistan is free and fair elections. That's the only way we will get out of this mess."

He expressed concern at proposed new legislation which he said would give widespread undemocratic power to the intelligence agencies.

Since being ousted Mr Khan has become a vocal critic of the new government.

"Unfortunately, the country has been taken over by fascists, and they are petrified of elections. The reason why I'm suffering is because they know that [in the] elections, we would win hands down. And because of that, they're dismantling a democracy," he said.

You can find out more in the full HARDtalk interview on BBC News TV, World Service radio and on podcast via BBC Sounds.

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