With all the other geopolitical war/conflict/droning hot spots around the world, one has so far managed to fly under the radar for the past few weeks, yet one which has the potential to generate a substantial disturbance in the central-planning farce: Pakistan.
Pakistan's opposition-leader (and cricket legend) Imran Khan has asked his followers surround the nation's parliament building, calling for a Tahrir-Square-like protest to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. While political instability is a hallmark of Pakistan's coup-prone government, Khan's concerns at the demise of law-and-order in the nation along with a belief that May 2013's election was "stolen" through conspiracies to rig the results, have led him to demand his followers stop paying taxes and utility bills.
The populist politician has a large following as anti-government protests rise against Pakistan's fragile democracy. Local media reports up to 20,000 in the crowd set to enter Islamabad's "red Zone" and government is calling on the military to protect them.
Pakistan’s last election brought Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to power with a sweeping mandate. That was supposed to consolidate the democratic process for the country. This was the first time one civilian government had passed power onto another democratically elected government. The oft-repeated claim was that the hangover from past military rule had burdened civil-society just enough to prevent a regression. Most people today would share that sentiment, however reluctantly.
That reluctant strain has only found more space to ruminate in the past three weeks, as the central government ties itself up in knots of mismanagement, following an almost ritualistic script from the past. There are several threads to this story that are all intersecting at the wrong time for the Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
Pakistan’s civilian government, led by the Pakistan Muslim League under Nawaz Sharif, is facing its biggest challenge since coming to power this week. Thousands of Pakistani protesters took to the streets of Islamabad, led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) Imran Khan and cleric Tahur ul-Qadri. The protesters are demanding that Nawaz Sharif’s government step down. Imran Khan threatened the independence day protests in advance, prompting the Pakistani government to move the Pakistani military into Islamabad to bolster security ahead of the occasion. So far, the government insists that its response has been non-violent. A government statement rebuffs claims from PTI that protesters had been fired upon: “There were absolutely no gunshots fired at his rally and such PTI-driven sensationalism is unfortunate.” The PTI describes its march on Islamabad as an “independence march.”
And there are two main threads to the current tension... first, fears of violence... Pakistan has been facing the worst ever law and order situation for some years with dozens of suicide bombings and killings taking place every month.
Two months ago, following an attack on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that left 30 dead, the military launched a major offensive — dubbed Zarb-e-Azaab, or “Sharp Strike” – against militants in North Waziristan. Though details on the progress of the operation are murky, what is clear is the displacement of over a million people with no place to reside besides poorly resourced government shelters and camps. Pakistan’s past patterns of migration would suggest that many of these internally displaced people (IDPs) will find their way to urban centers such as Karachi, which is already grappling with conflict between competing ethnic groups. The inadvertent consequences of this operation will inevitably produce greater unrest in Pakistan’s financial capital, which is already distraught with problems of gang violence and political turmoil.
The second line running through this narrative is the story of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan-Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), who claims that his third place finish in the last election was due to electoral fraud. Khan’s allegations of election rigging however, have no basis: of the 58 petitions filed by his party members requesting an audit of various constituencies, 70 percent have been decided, with not one in favor of PTI. Secondly, Khan’s party, which formed the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, continues to struggle with governance, having achieved little during its term despite riding high into office on a wave of populism. Having failed on both accounts, Khan has found a path by playing opposition politics through his “Million Man Freedom March,” with the goal of wringing a mid-term election from the central government so that seats can be reallocated on the basis of those results. Until this demand is met, Khan vows to remain encamped in the capital of Islamabad.
But now things are escalating...
- *KHAN CALLS FOR TAHRIR SQUARE-LIKE PROTEST TO OUST NAWAZ SHARIF
- *KHAN CALLS ON SUPPORTERS TO SURROUND THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING
- *PAKISTAN ARMY SAYS TROOPS TO DEPLOY IN ISLAMABAD `RED ZONE'
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan called for widespread civil disobedience in Pakistan, urging supporters to stop paying taxes and utility bills in a bid to oust the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The populist politician also raised the stakes. In a speech following a third day of protests in Islamabad, he warned that after two more days he would no longer be able to stop his supporters from storming the prime minister's house.
"We have to decide what to do with Nawaz Sharif, because he evades all laws, and he rigs the elections," Mr. Khan told a crowd of thousands. "We can't let this unjust regime continue."
The antigovernment protests have underscored the fragility of Pakistan's democracy, reviving fears of intervention from the country's coup-prone army.
In a speech that he described as the most important speech of his life, Mr. Khan said no taxes, including sales tax, and no electricity bills should be paid to a "fraudulent" government. Mr. Khan, who once campaigned on a "rule of law" platform, previously promoted the payment of taxes. Pakistan's low tax-collection rate and an inability to get consumers to pay for their electricity are among the country's most urgent economic problems.
Mr. Khan also said that, after two more days, he would no longer be able to keep his agreement not to enter Islamabad's so-called Red Zone, an area that houses the prime minister's house and office, Parliament, government ministries, the Supreme Court and embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.
The crowd cheered loudest at the prospect of pushing beyond the barricades. Some in the audience were carrying gas masks and goggles—in preparation, they said, for tear gas.
And so, here we are.. it begins...
- *KHAN BEINGS MARCH TOWARD PAKISTAN PARLIAMENT HOUSE IN ISLAMABAD
The government said Saturday that it had deployed 30,000 security forces to safeguard the march and Islamabad's sensitive areas, in one of the biggest peacetime operations seen in Pakistan. Mr. Khan himself in his speech acknowledged that any attempt to reach the Red Zone would involve bloodshed and it could draw in the army.
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Beware the wrath of Khan...
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Time to deploy The Kerry...