To press Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to call an early election little over a year after his landslide victory at the polls, two groups, led by cricket star-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, will converge on Islamabad today.
This has influenced and triggered riots in the capital. Riot police have sealed off the Pakistan’s capital with barbed wire and shipping containers in a bid to foil mass protests. On late Wednesday night, the Lahore High Court ruling, however, implied that Khan’s march might be allowed to go ahead. More than 20,000 police and paramilitary forces have been deployed to try to thwart the major anti-government rally.
“Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are restrained from launching a march/sit-in in Islamabad in any unconstitutional way keeping in view the sensitivity of Independence day and current uncertain situation in the country,” PTI’s lawyer Ahmad Owais had said in Lahore quoting from a short order by a three-judge panel headed by Justice Khalid Mehmood. Both Khan and Qadri, who led mass demonstrations in Islamabad early last year to urge electoral reform, allege that the May 2013 general elections were rigged.
Mobile phone services were shut down in the heavily-guarded “red zone”, home to Parliament, the President and Prime Minister’s residences and foreign embassies, on Wednesday. It is a common practice on sensitive occasions in Pakistan aimed at stopping militants using cell phones to detonate bombs.
Sharif’s landslide General Election victory in May 2013 saw Pakistan’s first ever handover of power from one civilian-led government to another after a full term, in polls that local and foreign observers called credible. Tension has gripped parts of the country since last week, with running clashes between police and supporters of Qadri in the eastern city of Lahore over several days leaving at least one protester dead.