A supporter of Tahir ul-Qadri, a Sufi cleric and leader of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party, cheers upon seeing an army commander after fellow supporters stormed the building of the state television channel PTV, during the Revolution March in Islamabad yesterday. Photo: Reuters
The political crisis in Pakistan remains at fever pitch as both the government and the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) refuse to budge on their respective positions.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stands firm in the face of growing pressure for his resignation, and the protesting PTI and PAT are adamant on standing their ground in the capital's high-security red zone.
Violent clashes have taken place over the last 72 hours, leaving at least three dead and hundreds injured.
Anti-government protesters run after police personnel and beat a riot policeman, while one of them returns a tear gas shell towards law enforcers in Islamabad yesterday. Photo: Reuters/AFP
Speculation and conspiracy theories are widespread, the most popular of which sees the powerful military as somehow engineering the ongoing crisis.
This view is a consequence of numerous events, the most recent being PTI President Javed Hashmi's allegations that Imran Khan said the current crisis is following a script dictated by the military.
Amid the rallying calls for the PM's resignation and an overthrow of the system, all eyes are on the Supreme Court and the army as the deadlock continues.
In a statement issued yesterday, the ISPR has rejected the assertions that the military and ISI were backing the protesters, reports DawnNews.
The press release states: "ISPR has categorically rejected the assertions that Army and ISI were backing PTI/PAT in anyway in the current political standoff. Army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy at numerous
occasions. It is unfortunate that Army is dragged into such controversies."
Ahead of a joint session of parliament, Pakistan's prime minister and army chief held marathon meetings yesterday over violent anti-government protests that could force the premier of this nuclear-armed country to resign.
Nawaz Sharif again vowed he would not step down under duress, even as protesters briefly took over the country's state-run television broadcaster and battled security forces in the streets.
The parliamentary session today appears to be an attempt to rally political support to the prime minister's side.
The turmoil comes as part of the mass demonstrations led by cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan. Both demand Sharif step down over their allegations of fraud in last year's election.
The protests, which have been peaceful for weeks, turned ugly this weekend when clashes between protesters and security forces killed three people and wounded some 400 in running street battles in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
The last 48 hours saw the anti-government protests morph Islamabad's Red Zone from a concert ground to a bloody battlefield, with at least three people killed and hundreds injured.
Clashes broke out early yesterday and continued sporadically throughout the day. The state PTV channel and its English-language PTV World service were taken off the air after protesters stormed its headquarters.
Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan looks on from the stage during protests near the prime minister's residence yesterday. His supporters trying to topple Pakistan government briefly seized the state broadcaster, intensifying the political crisis gripping the nuclear-armed nation. Photo: Reuters/AFP
A PTV source told Reuters the protesters had occupied the main control room and smashed some equipment. Uniformed members of a paramilitary force and soldiers later secured the building and the station later came back on the air.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters the government was preparing to launch a selective crackdown against protesters, possibly later yesterday, and warned demonstrators against storming government buildings.
"The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before that," he said. "I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the course of coming events."
The United States, already concerned about regional stability at a time when most of its troops are leaving neighbouring Afghanistan, called for restraint by all sides.
In an interview to a private TV channel, PTI President Javed Hashmi said that he had told his party's chairman not to leave his fate on any third umpire. “Khan Sahib, do not think that the umpire will favour you,” Hashmi claimed to have told this to the PTI chairman.
He said Saifullah Niazi, Jahangir Tareen and Sheikh Rasheed were the ones who mended Imran's opinion regarding Army's support. Hashmi claimed that the PTI chief had been assured about support of five Corps Commanders.
There has also been disagreement on how to handle Islamist militants, and on relations with old rival India.