Demonstrators in Islamabad accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of destroying Pakistan’s economy and stealing the last election with the help of the military.
“Poor mothers are forced to sell their children for money. Young men are committing suicide. ... Can we leave the people at the mercy of this incompetent government?” said Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a cleric and leader of the Islamist political party Jamiat e Ulema e Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leading the protest.
March from Karachi
Friday’s peaceful demonstration was the culmination of a long march Rehman started Sunday in the port city of Karachi to draw attention to Pakistan’s issues.
Support from Pakistan’s biggest opposition parties, Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), seemed tepid at first. But the party’s senior leadership, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, joined Rehman on stage Friday to make fiery speeches.
“Our prime minister is selected, he does not represent the people, he is incompetent, he is inept,” Bhutto Zardari said.
Sharif savaged the prime minister’s economic performance.
“Imran Khan Niazi, you promised 10 million additional jobs. Instead, you’ve made hundreds of thousands jobless,” he said.
Senior members of both opposition parties are being investigated for corruption, allegedly carried out during previous governments. Both say the cases are politically motivated.
Meanwhile, Khan and his ruling party call the protests a ruse to compel the government to back off on the inquiries.
“People know what they really want. ... The truth is, their cases are now public. With the massive corruption they carried out, all of them are scared they will be arrested,” Khan said while addressing a rally.
The opposition leaders did not spell out consequences if Khan does not step down, only hinting they may move to paralyze the government by blocking a main road leading to Parliament and other buildings.
The government said such a move would be forcefully repelled, prompting fears of possible violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
The protest has also increased tension between the opposition and Pakistan’s powerful military, which has directly ruled the country for half of its history.
“If we feel that our establishment [the military] is supporting this illegal government, then we are issuing a two-day ultimatum. After that, don’t stop us from making up our own minds,” Rehman said.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said opposition leaders should not drag the military into Pakistani politics.
“The army is an impartial institution. We believe in the constitution and law and our support is for a democratically elected government, not for any political party,” he said.