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 populist cleric called for the government’s resignation leading tens of thousands of protesters into the federal capital.
During the early hours of Tuesday, the Pakistani-Canadian chief of the Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ), Dr Tahirul Qadri, followed by a large motorcade and thousands of supporters on foot, called for the “corrupt” and “inefficient” sitting government to step down. He threatened that the people would otherwise “take matters into their own hands”.
“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.”
The protesters — according to some estimates numbering between 25,000 to 50,000 — relocated towards D-chowk in front of the Parliament, where Qadri spoke to them again from behind a bullet-proof shield at around 1 pm, unveiling his charter of demands, and praising the country’s military and the judiciary. The cleric threatened to remain camped in front of the parliament along with his supporters until his demands were met.
“(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,” News agency Reuters quoted Qadri, who alternated between Urdu and English in his speech. “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.”
But as Qadri praised the two state institutions, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced orders for the arrest of 16 individuals, including Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, in the rental power projects case.
Prime Minister Ashraf was accused of receiving kickbacks and commissions in the RPPs case during his previous stint as federal minister for water and power.
“The chief justice ordered that all concerned, regardless of their rank, who have been booked in the case be arrested and if someone leaves the country, then chairman of National Accountability Bureau will be held responsible along with his investigating team,” said Aamir Abbas, lawyer for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). “The sixteen include Raja Ashraf.”
Nearly an hour later, Fawad Chaudhry, an aide to the embattled prime minister, accused the military and the Supreme Court of conspiring together to topple the government.
The uncertainty also took its toll on the country’s equity markets, with the benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange 100 index plummeting 3.16 per cent during the days trading, closing 525 points lower at 16,107.89.
The ruling coalition government battles its latest challenges just a day after Prime Minister Ashraf invoked Article 234 of the Constitution, dissolving the provincial government and imposing governor’s rule in the restive Balochistan province. The government was forced to give in to hundreds of protesting ethnic Shia Hazaras who had been refusing to bury the victims of bombings in Quetta, the provincial capital, to protect government inaction over attacks targeting the community.