After 15 months of relative stability, Pakistan is heading for chaos again

Anger at last year's election result is fuelling two massive protests this week

Share

The talk is of hundreds of thousands of people. One million. Perhaps even more.

The authorities of Pakistan are readying themselves for what could be a huge demonstration of anti-government feeling. Two separate protests, similar in their aims and ambition, are set to besiege Islamabad tomorrow, Pakistan’s Independence Day.

One of the protests will he headed by the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The other demonstrators are supporters of cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who runs Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and a religious organisation, Minhaj-ul-Quran.

Both groups are demanding that the government of Nawaz Sharif stand down immediately. They claim the victory Mr Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won in last year’s election was made possible only by widespread electoral corruption. The win was illegitimate, they claim.

It has been 15 months since the 64-year-old Mr Sharif was elected to his third term as Pakistan’s prime minister. During the campaign it was clear he was being pushed hard, especially in the urban areas of Punjab, by Mr Khan and the PTI.

But for all of Mr Khan’s charisma and his appeal to young people that Pakistan required change, not old faces, the PML-N was better organised and ensured its supporters went out and cast their votes on polling day. While there were some irregularities, most domestic and international observers believed the election was fair.

Mr Khan cannot accept it. While initially saying his party would acknowledge the result, and getting on with the task of running the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) where he won, he pressed the election authorities and the government to launch an investigation in a sample of constituencies to see if there had been rigging. He says Mr Sharif and the government have failed to do so.

Speaking from Pakistan, Saifullah Niazi, a senior PTI official, said: “We want electoral reforms and we then want new elections. No election reforms can take place while the government is in place. There would have to have a caretaker government – through the Supreme Court.”

 

Supporters of Mr Qadri are equally adamant that the status quo cannot continue. The cleric, who spends most of his time in Canada, has called for a “people’s revolution” and has also demanded Mr Sharif’s government stand down.

Unlike Mr Khan, Mr Qadri told his supporters last year to boycott the election, saying they could not hope for a fair outcome. He insists that nothing has changed.

Qazi Faiz-ul-Islam, a spokesman for Mr Qadri’s PAT, said: “We are peaceful people. We are unarmed. But our morale is very high. The Sharifs should step down. Their days are numbered.”

Neither Mr Khan nor Mr Qadri are strangers to the drama of such protests and marches. In October 2012, Mr Khan tried to lead a “long march” to Waziristan to highlight US drone strikes.

Meanwhile, in January 2013, parts of Islamabad were brought to a halt when Mr Qadri brought tens of thousands of supporters to the capital and camped out close to the parliament building. Many of the largely urban protesters were women. The demands for clean government echoed those of protesters in neighbouring India and elsewhere.

From a constitutional point of view, Mr Sharif argues that he has right on his side and that he can take whatever steps are required to protect the capital. The protesters, similarly, claim they are within their constitutional right to demonstrate.

But as is often the case in Pakistan, the issue may be more opaque. Government officials have claimed both Mr Qadri and Mr Khan are being supported by the powerful military and intelligence establishment, with whom Mr Sharif has long had a difficult relationship. (He was forced out in a coup in 1999 led by Gen Pervez Musharraf).

Both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri deny any links to the military. But others have pointed out that the military, displeased with Mr Sharif for allowing a treason trial of Mr Musharraf to proceed, could seek to seize on the situation. The perception that the demonstrators are supported by the army could be as important as the military’s actual backing.

Sixty-eight years since it secured its independence, Pakistan faces a host of problems, including a persistent Islamist militancy, crippling power cuts and uncertainty about the regional fall-out as US troops prepare to leave neighbouring Afghanistan.

Last year’s completion of a full term by a civilian government and the transfer to another civilian government – the first time in Pakistan’s seven decades that this had happened – was broadly welcomed domestically and abroad.

Mr Sharif certainly appears to be taking the threat seriously. Police have effectively barricaded Mr Qadri’s Lahore office and it seems unlikely he will be permitted to lead the demonstrators to Islamabad. There have already been clashes and at least one person was killed.

And last night, a sombre Mr Sharif addressed the nation, his second appeal to the public in as many days. The prime minister listed what he said were the achievements of his government, though he admitted he had not been able to work a miracle.

He added: “We will not allow national decisions to be taken on the streets and roads. We will not permit anyone to spread anarchy.”

READ MORE:
Hidden from view, Sri Lanka is trampling over the rights of its Tamil population
Why does Isis hate us so much?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?