After talks between Pakistan's government and opposition leaders failed, protesters in the country geared up for what their leaders say will be a “deciding day” on Thursday as they call for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down.
Led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Islamic cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, the massive protests that have gripped the country saw thousands of demonstrators camp outside the nation's parliament in Islamabad last week, a Reuters report said. Sharif cancelled a visit to Turkey due to the turbulent political situation in the country that has seen many military coups in the past, The Dawn, a local newspaper, reported.
"Thursday will be Revolution Day," Qadri announced to a crowd of protesters, adding: "We will not go forward from tomorrow as it will be the deciding day."
Khan, an Oxford graduate and a former international cricketing hero, has demanded the resignation of Sharif and accused him of rigging last year’s elections where Sharif won a landslide victory. Qadri, who also wants Sharif to step down, accuses the government of chronic corruption. The popular Islamic cleric, who heads the Pakistan Awami Tehreek party and runs a network of Islamic schools and hospitals, has promised free housing for the homeless, welfare benefits, and subsidized food and electricity for Pakistan’s poor.
Faced with an Islamist insurgency, sectarian conflicts, inefficient governance, and a failing economy, many citizens are unhappy with Sharif’s government. Earlier, representatives of the Pakistani government reportedly held talks with protest leaders but failed to end the crisis.
Qadri told supporters to prepare for a decisive day in their campaign to remove Sharif from his post while also demanding that criminal cases be filed against Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Pakistan's Punjab province, and several police officers who the protesters allege are responsible for the Lahore massacre or Model Town tragedy -- a brutal police crackdown against protesters that lead to several deaths in June.
Both Qadri and Khan have given several ultimatums to the government but with little effect. And, in preparation of Thursday's protests, the Pakistani capital of Islamabad saw the presence of security forces in large numbers in the city center. And, while many expect the protests to fizzle out, there is a danger they will turn violent, Reuters reported.
Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has swung between democracy and military rule though the nation's army has always been a strong force in the country’s politics. However, the army has stayed out of the latest round of protests, calling on all sides to resolve the dispute through political means, and few expect the army to seize power this time around. Last year’s election saw the first democratic transfer of power from the military to a civilian government in the country’s history, and brought Khan from the sidelines to the main stage as the head of Pakistan’s third-largest party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.