Turmoil in Pak Deepens, People ‘Take Over’ Islamabad

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KARACHI: Pakistan appeared to be treading toward an uncertain political terrain on Tuesday as arrest orders were issued for a sitting prime minister in a corruption case and a popular cleric called for the government’s resignation leading tens of thousands of protesters into the federal capital.

In an aggressive challenge, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri put the Pakistani government on notice and demanded the President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf resign immediately. 

“This president and prime minister…they are now ex-presidents and prime ministers. Their time is over. Dissolve the national and provincial assemblies by the morning. I am giving you until 11 am to step down or else the people will start making their own decisions,” said Qadri, who many believe to be backed by the country’s military establishment. “These millions of supporters have spoken. They have rejected your so-called mandate. You are no longer their representatives.”

Spearheading the march at Islamabad’s Jinnah Avenue, Qadri roared that the present government had only brought misery to its people and hence must resign and an interim government, backed by the military, take over. 

In a vitriolic attack on the government, he asked the tens of thousands of his supporters to be ready for a do-or-die battle. Qadri said that he wanted a moderate, peaceful and tolerant society in Pakistan and not an ‘extremist’ one. 

Citing Article 40 of Pakistani constitution, Qadri said that it was government’s responsibility to maintain peace inside and outside Pakistan, but the government had badly failed to do so. 

Questioning Pakistan’s dented image, that of a “terrorist state”, the influential cleric asserted that it was the political leadership that was responsible for it. 

“Pakistanis have been fighting at the borders for last 10-12 years. In spite of 12 years of gory sacrifices, we are still looked down upon as a terrorist state… who is responsible for this? “ said Qadri. 

“Our politicians are soaked in corruption from tip to toe… they just want to fleece the poor.” 

He also mentioned Shia killings in Quetta, saying what right do politicians have to sit in Parliament in a nation where people mourn with 120 corpses unburied till four days. 

He sought to kindle the revolutionary spirit in the crowd, egging them to continue the protest until the government resigned. 

Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan last month after seven years of self imposed exile following death threats, runs a network of religious schools and charities around the world from Canada. 

Qadri, who supported the Musharraf regime during its initial years, is said to have the backing of the military, which wants to influence the electoral process. 

adri’s challenge to the government comes as Pakistan’s civilian government is set to see a Prime Minister make it the full five years for the first time and hold independent elections, which the military may perceive as a threat to its power. 

Pak govt baffled

Government officials said they were baffled by the arrest order, which came hours after Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said elections should go ahead as scheduled.

“This was totally unexpected,” an official in Ashraf’s office told Reuters. “The prime minister and two or three of his friends were watching Qadri speak on television and this suddenly happened.”

Pakistan’s stock exchange fell by more than 500 points, or nearly three per cent, on news of the court order, due to fears over fresh political turmoil, which comes against a backdrop of militant bombings and tension on the border with India.

Qadri, who played a role in backing a military coup in 1999, threatened to remain camped out near the federal parliament with thousands of supporters until his demands for the resignation of the government were met.

The fiery orator returned home from Canada less than a month ago to lead a call for electoral reforms to bar corrupt politicians from office that has made him an instant hit among Pakistanis disillusioned with the state.

In a speech from behind a bullet-proof shield in front of parliament, Qadri praised the military and the judiciary, the country’s two other power centres.

“(The government) has wasted and brought a bad end to our armed forces, those armed forces who are highly sincere, highly competent and highly capable and highly professional,” he said, alternating between Urdu and English.

“Even they can’t do anything because the political government isn’t able to deliver anything from this land. Judgments are being passed by our great, independent judiciary but the government is not ready to implement them.”

Qadri is demanding that the government dissolve the legislature and announce the formation of a caretaker government to oversee the run-up to elections.

He told Reuters on Friday that the military could play a possible role in the selection of the interim administration, a stance which has sharpened fears he may be working at the army’s behest. The military denies any ties to him.

One senior military officer, who said he was speaking in a purely personal capacity, said there was no appetite in the military to repeat the coups seen in Pakistan’s past, but added the stand-off could be resolved if the army played a role in the formation of a caretaker government as a “moderator”.

“We should try as far as possible to abide by the constitution and law in looking for change. The army chief has made this clear,” the officer told Reuters.

“But things seem to be moving beyond control,” the officer added. “It is totally incorrect to say the army is behind Qadri. But if he brings thousands of people to the streets and things get worse, there may be very few options.” Agencies

 

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