Pakistan in deadlock

31st Oct 2014

Aishah Ali

A stampede killed seven people and injured 42 in Maltan, Pakistan, during an anti-Government rally on October 10. This is the second incident that has resulted in casualties since the anti Government protests began on August 14. Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has been accused of mass election fraud and the protesters have demanded his resignation. The protests, based in the capital Islamabad, have spread to other cities, escalating the political standoff.

The demonstrations, headed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAK) have demanded a recount of last year’s elections. Though not allied, and have different agendas, both demand the PM’s resignation and have brought forward many corruption allegations. Khan said that he had “exhorted every way possible” in the past 13 months to highlight the irregularities and bring about electoral reforms. He added that the people have “been denied justice because Nawaz Sharif buys people.”

Sharif’s Government rejected the allegations and have not allowed an independent investigation to be carried out. Sharif, who was ousted from the post once before through a military coup in 1999, said, “The Government will not allow anyone to derail the democratically elected set up.”

“I invite Imran Khan for dialogue. I am an elected person and will listen to the demands of the opponents,” he added.

Since then Khan has challenged Sharif, who is the owner of a business conglomerate and one of the wealthiest in the country, to reveal his assets abroad. “I don’t have a single penny in banks abroad and therefore I’m not afraid of anything. I ask Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari why they are reluctant to declare their real assets,” he said.

Discussing Pakistan’s borrowing and its huge debt crisis, Khan aimed direct questions at the PM, “Where was this money spent because poverty has increased manifold during these years?”

Although dialogue on the crisis has taken place, it has not been directly between the leaders. Representatives from the PM’s Pakistan’s Muslim League and Jamaati-Islami Party have had a series of sessions, but they have remained inconclusive as the demand of resignation seems nonnegotiable.

The protests began in dramatic style on Pakistan’s Independence day, August 14, as thousands joined the ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad. The 185 mile stretch, taking 2 days to complete, still went ahead although the Government at first had labelled it “unconstitutional and illegal.” Shipping containers had been used to block access to key roads, but they were easily uplifted by the protestors.

On August 19, both camps decided to mount the pressure by moving location into the high security ‘red zone’ that houses the Parliament, PM house and other Government buildings. Thousands of police and army were deployed, however once again protesters did not encounter resistance except for more shipping containers.

However, after a further week of campaigns, the camps decided to rally outside the PM’s house. At this point riot police stopped the advancement and clashed with protesters. A total of 450 injuries and 3 deaths were reported. The protesters briefly managed to enter Parliament but the police eventually managed to push them out.

Sharif met with military leaders to discuss the options to end the political deadlock. The military said that a “meaningful dialogue” was needed to resolve the crisis. In a brief statement, it said, “patience, wisdom and sagacity from the all stakeholders to end the prevailing impasse.”

Both parties have since camped outside the lawns of Parliament causing disruptions to the city including school closures and road blocks.

The nation awaits the outcome of the sit-in, now entering its third month, outside the Parliament that has plagued the country’s politics and received intense local media coverage.

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