Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan on Sunday announced that he was launching a civil disobedience movement to force the sitting prime minister to resign and call for fresh elections.
“I ask all Pakistani citizens not to pay tax, including general sales tax, or any utility bills, to protest the sitting Pakistani government that won through fraudulent elections in 2013,” he told thousands of his supporters in Islamabad on the third day of his party’s “long march.”
Khan accused the government, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in particular, of bribing stakeholders during the 2013 elections to secure a landslide victory. He also warned the government to resign within two days or he would lose control of his followers.
“I promised the interior minister [Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan] that my workers would not cross into the ‘Red Zone’ but I can’t control you indefinitely,” he said. “After two days, my workers will no longer be in my control and can cross into the ‘Red Zone’ and occupy Parliament House and even drag [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif out,” he warned. Later, he said he would personally lead his followers into the ‘Red Zone’ if the Sharifs did not resign within two days. The ‘Red Zone’ in Islamabad is the location of several foreign embassies and offices and Parliament House. The interior minister said on Saturday that no action would be taken against the protesters unless they tried to enter the ‘Red Zone.’
The government has already announced intent to initiate dialogue with Khan, but he said during his speech that he would not settle for anything less than the resignation of Nawaz Sharif. “I know you [Sharif] will try to send people to convince me to back down,” he said. “Don’t waste my time.”
However, Khawaja Saad Rafique, railways minister, said the government was ready to accept any constitutional demand of Qadri and Khan. “I have requested them to meet us for talks, as this would be the most useful process to meet their demands,” he said.
Also addressing supporters on Sunday, Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri said that what he called a corrupt system of governance could not be changed without a revolution. “The country’s survival will be at stake if Nawaz Sharif and his cronies are allowed to rule the country,” Qadri said. “We don’t want mid-term elections … what we want is revolution,” he said, adding that corruption and plundering of the national wealth was rampant. “We will not allow this system to continue any more.”
Qadri has called for Sharif’s arrest over what he alleges was the murder of his supporters, and for the installation of an interim national government. The cleric, who late Saturday issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the government to accept his demands, said he would not be responsible for any repercussions if they were not met.
He said Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is chief minister of Punjab province, had no right to sit in government, their cabinets should be dissolved and they should be arrested on murder charges.
Analysts warned there was no quick solution to the impasse. “Apparently there are no signs that the government and the two parties are working towards a solution of the problem … both are sticking to their positions, leading to a deadlock,” said analyst Hasan Askari. “If political leaders fail to resolve this problem and violence starts, then the initiative will shift to the military—either to mediate the problem or see to it that the stalemate is resolved,” he said.
Senior politicians have intensified their efforts to avert a crisis, however. Siraj-ul-Haq, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, met the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, to discuss the situation. “The entire nation is upset over what is happening in Islamabad … we have to steer the country out of this crisis with a cool mind,” Haq told reporters after meeting Shah in Karachi. “We will not allow democracy to be derailed at any cost.”
Shah confirmed that the government had called an emergency meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to discuss the ongoing protests. “The Parliamentary Committee meeting tomorrow will decide how and which demands can be accepted to avoid any chaos in Islamabad,” he said.
Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the Opposition in the Senate, said he believed Khan’s allegations were true, but disagreed with the route he had adopted to seek redress. “Even the Pakistan Peoples Party has raised objections to the massive rigging in the 2013 elections, and there is evidence for it, but the way Imran Khan has taken to the streets of Islamabad is not a solution,” he told Newsweek via phone. “It will only raise agitation in the country,” he added.