Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has in principle decided not to bow out under the pressure of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek protests, According to sources, the prime minister expressed his resolve to defuse the prevailing political crisis in a democratic way, during a meeting with party leaders here at PM House.
“I will neither tender resignation nor will call mid-term elections”, sources quoted PM as saying. Earlier, government sent troops to boost security in Islamabad’s Red Zone, as opposition politician Imran Khan and a populist cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri led protesters marching on parliament in a high-stakes bid to depose the prime minister. Khan, the former cricket star who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, and preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri say last year’s general election was rigged and have demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign.
Thousands of their followers have rallied in Islamabad over the past five days to demand Sharif quit, piling pressure on the government little more than a year since its landslide victory. The government has used shipping containers to seal off Islamabad’s “red zone”, which houses key buildings including parliament, the prime minister’s house and numerous Western embassies. Imran Khan and Qadri defied government warnings not to try to enter the area, both pledging to march peacefully to stage sit-in protests outside parliament.
“We will protest in front of the parliament, we will not enter inside but will stage such a big crowd that people will forget Tahrir Square,” Khan told cheering followers. PTI activists used a crane to remove the containers blocking their path and live TV footage showed them on the move. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan earlier said extra troops were being deployed to protect key buildings. “It has been decided to hand over the security of the red zone to military,” the minister told reporters. The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Sharif and attended by army chief General Raheel Sharif, Khan said – suggesting the government has the support of the powerful military in the crisis.
An extra 350 troops were deployed in the red zone to add to the 350 stationed there since June, military sources said. Nuclear-armed Pakistan has experienced three military coups and the protests triggered speculation about possible intervention by the armed forces. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has accused Khan of trying to derail the nation’s perennially fragile democratic system as the government struggles with Taliban militancy and a flagging economy. Mass support for the protest movement beyond Khan and Qadri’s core supporters appears to be lacking and other opposition parties have shunned Khan’s call to unseat the government.
Newspapers and business leaders have also criticised Khan’s tactics, which on Sunday included a call for “civil disobedience”. With Khan looking isolated, on Monday PTI made a dramatic double roll of the dice to try to re-energise its campaign. First the party announced it would resign all 34 of its seats in the 342-member parliament and three out of four provincial assemblies. Then Khan pledged to lead the protesters in a march on the red zone, setting the stage for possible clashes. -SAMAA