Pakistan’s internal political atmosphere was tense Tuesday as tens of thousands gathered outside Parliament in the capital city of Islamabad to join a popular protest against corruption in government, calling for ‘revolution’ if their demands for a peaceful transition of power were not followed.
A conflation of anti-corruption sentiment and anger over internal terrorist attacks and ongoing violence in the tribal areas of western Pakistan–including ongoing US drone strikes that many blame, at least in part, on the ruling parties–are coming together to challenge the government’s legitimacy.
On the same day as the protests in Islamabad, the nation’s supreme court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in connection with a corruption scandal.
Cleric-turned political activist Tahir-ul-Qadri led the throngs of angered Pakistanis outside Parliament with an impassioned speech against the ruling government.
“We are here in front of the parliament house just to save our country from collapse and from complete ruin,” he said in an address reported by Al-Jazeera. Though he welcomed the news about PM Pervez, he urged his supporters to continue their sit-in until Wednesday.
“We need substantial changes and reforms in our democratic political electoral system. We want to put democracy in its letter and spirit in place,” he said.
Imran Khan, the leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who has focused on ending the ongoing violence in his country, announced that his party would call for nationwide protests if a caretaker government was not announced within eight days.
As Al-Jazeera reports:
The Guardian adds:
The country’s political class has for weeks feared that a so-called “million man march” led by the Islamic scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri would be used as a pretext to postpone elections scheduled for the next few months.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Qadri had already declared to his supporters that the “false mandate of the rulers is over” and ordered President Asif Ali Zardar to dissolve parliament immediately.
“Zardari has become an ex-president,” said Qadri while addressing the crowd from behind a bulletproof screen placed on top of a sea container in the middle of Islamabad’s central avenue. “Dissolve the assembly or the people will do it,” he said.
Many commentators have questioned Qadri’s motives, fearing he is a stalking horse for the powerful military and judiciary. Both institutions are highly antagonistic to civilian politicians, whom they regard as corrupt and unable to grapple with Pakistan’s acute problems.
During a second Tuesday speech by Qadri to thousands of people who had camped on the street overnight, the cleric confirmed many people’s fears by heaping praise on the army and judges.
Imran Khan says terrorism and corruption could ‘be wiped out in 90 days’
New Track India reports:
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, who arrived in Quetta to join the protesting families of those who died [in a terrorist attack last week], has said that terrorism “can be wiped out in 90 days”.
Khan had previously said that the PTI could eradicate corruption in three months if voted into power, reports The Express Tribune.
Khan said his party was very clear on the matter of terrorism. He said certain terrorists can be brought to the negotiation table, while others will have to be dealt with guns.
Khan arrived in Quetta to express solidarity with the protesting families, who have been staging a sit-in at Alamdar Road since Friday, alongside 86 coffins carrying the victims’ shrouded bodies.
Even 36 hours after the deaths of their loved ones, the families say they will not bury their dead unless the army takes control of the provincial capital and protects members of their sect from vigilante-style wings of extremist groups.
Khan said the incumbent government did not care about anyone, except for itself. He said Pakistan has no future under the present government. He added that people are fleeing Balochistan due to the current situation of security.
PM arrested over corruption charges
The New York Times reports:
In its order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau, a government body that investigates graft, to arrest Mr. Ashraf and 15 other senior current or former officials, including a former finance minister and a former finance secretary.
The case relates to longstanding allegations that Mr. Ashraf took millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of a deal to build two electricity power plants while serving as minister for water and power between March 2008 and February 2011.
The order comes more than a year after two opposition figures filed a complaint in the supreme court against Mr. Ashraf. Three months later, in March 2012, the court ruled that that power plants were illegal, ordered their closure, and instituted proceedings against Mr. Ashraf.