Back in January of last year, the sudden return to Pakistan of cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who had been in a form of exile in Canada, threatened to derail the elections that took place two months later. There were accusations at the time that he was working on behalf of the military. Qadri did not take part in the elections (and is being called out for that now), but he started agitating again last month, with his large demonstrations leading to the arrest of large numbers of his followers and a number of deaths in clashes between his followers and police.
Yesterday, it was announced that Qadri will lead a “revolution march” that begins on August 14 and is intended to turn into a siege of Islamabad. From Geo News:
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief, Dr. Tahirul Qadri Sunday said the ‘revolution march’ will begin on August 14.
“No one will return till the government is toppled and the system changed,” Dr. Qadri told his workers and asked them to take a pledge by raising their hands.
But it will not be just Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party marching in Islamabad on the 14th. The article continues:
Addressing the PAT workers who had gathered here to observe the party’s Yaum-e-Shuhda, the PAT chief said both ‘Azadi March’ of Imran Khan and ‘revolution march’ of his party will be staged on the same day of August 14.
Dawn is now counting down the days to the march (and somehow they borrow from the NCAA basketball tournament to call this march madness), and frame the major questions the demonstrations pose:
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Azadi March and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s ‘Revolution March’ will now storm the capital together, further intensifying the stand-off with the government.
Many questions remain unanswered at this stage. Will Imran’s ‘peaceful’ rally be hijacked by Qadri’s more volatile protesters? Whose demands is the combined march really about — Qadri’s, or Imran’s?
Will speculations of a military intervention push the situation beyond the point of no return for Nawaz and co.?
Pakistan’s government continues to negotiate with the groups and refuses to release the 1500 Qadri supporters who have been jailed. Significantly, the government also has called an additional 3000 federal troops to Islamabad to shore up preparations already undertaken by the military:
Pakistan Army’s 111 Brigade, Rangers, elite force and intelligence agencies personnel have already been assigned security duties in Islamabad as PTI and PAT gears up for a march towards the capital to oust the government on August 14.
The federal government called in military to Islamabad, from August 1 by invoking Article 245, for assisting the civil authorities in maintaining law and order situation of Islamabad for three months.
Ironically, despite his government calling in the military to deal with the chaos surrounding the march, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is accusing former military dictator Pervez Musharraf (and by extension, Pakistan’s military) of being behind the movement:
In a speech that addressed the ongoing political crisis in the currently, the prime minister on Monday asked who is behind the calls for revolutions and marches in the country.
“I can’t help but laugh at the agendas of these long marches,” Nawaz Sharif said, indirectly referring to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
“It hurts and confuses me – who has given them these agendas?”
The government has accused “Musharraf’s friends” of being behind the political chaos in the country, with PTI and PAT leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri calling for the prime minister to step down with a march on August 14.
In a veiled reference to former military ruler General (retired) Musharraf, he asked why those who invited the war on terror in Pakistan are not held accountable.
“Have we not learned lessons from what this country has suffered? The constitution has been uprooted, rule of law has been flouted…we suffered billion of dollars in losses [as a result of Pakistan’s involvement]. Who sowed the seeds of terrorism?” he asked.
“Who is going to hold them accountable?”
This week promises to be very revealing about the future of Pakistan’s politics. And shouldn’t someone be raising those same questions from Sharif here in the US? Have we not learned lessons from what we have suffered, as our constitution also was uprooted and rule of law flouted? Shouldn’t we hold someone accountable here?
For the first time in its 65 year history, Pakistan is poised to see an elected government fully complete its term in March. With chaos erupting on several fronts, though, the path toward electing a new government appears to be full of obstacles.
Last week saw sectarian bombings kill 96 Shi’ites in Quetta on Thursday alone, and tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets, refusing to bury the dead until Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf came to Quetta and agreed to fire the entire provincial government, as it was suspected of being involved in sectarian violence.
Ashraf finds himself at the center of a controversy, as well. The Pakistan Supreme Court issued a warrant for his arrest today in a long-simmering scandal dating back to when Ashraf was minister of water and power before he became Prime Minister. From Dawn:
The prime minister has been accused of receiving kickbacks and commission in the RPPs [Rental Power Projects] case as minister for water and power.
In the case, nine RPPs firms were accused of receiving more than Rs22 billion [1 R = .01 US $] as a mobilisation advance from the government to commission the projects but most of them did not set up their plants and a few of them installed them but with inordinate delay.
From the Reuters article on today’s developments in Pakistan, we have a description of how the election process is supposed to proceed:
The government and opposition are poised to start negotiating the formation of a caretaker administration to oversee the run-up to the polls as soon as parliament is dissolved, which is due to happen in March. An election date has yet to be announced.
The New York Times article on developments informs us that the elections are required to take place within 60 days of the end of the term for the parliament. Complicating the process immensely though, is the sudden appearance of cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who has returned to Pakistan from Canada to lead massive protests demanding that the government resign immediately, instead of in March. The Times explains that some see the hand of the military behind Qadri:
The court order came as an enigmatic preacher turned politician, Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri, addressed thousands of supporters outside Parliament and repeated calls for the government’s ouster. In earlier speeches, he said that a caretaker administration led by technocrats should take its place.
The confluence of the two events stoked growing speculation that Pakistan’s powerful military was quietly supporting moves that would delay general elections that are due to take place this spring, most likely through the imposition of a military-backed caretaker administration.