The coming together of political parties opposed to Prime Minister Imran Khan and by extension to the Army which supports him was on view at a massive protest rally organised in Karachi on Sunday, the second such event after an equally large rally in Gujranwala two days earlier.
The 11-party alliance called the Pakistan Democratic Movement was formed last month and alleges that the present government was installed in 2018 after an election rigged by the Army and the country’s intelligence agency. It wants Mr Khan to step down immediately.
While exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who played a key role in the formation of the alliance, has accused Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa of orchestrating his ouster in 2017 and rigging the election that saw Mr Khan assume power, his daughter, Maryam Sharif while maintaining that the opposition is not against the military, has refused to accept those “who crush ballots under their boots.”
In response to the first protest rally at Gujranwala, Mr Khan had promised he would get “tougher” on his opponents. A rattled establishment reacted by naming Maryam’s husband Captain Mohammad Safdar in a First Information Report alleging sedition and inciting hate against the Army on Friday. He was accused of exhorting followers to topple the provincial and federal governments by force.
The next day it slapped fresh charges against Safdar and Maryam of violating the sanctity of the mausoleum of the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in Karachi. The latest reports from Pakistan say that Captain Safdar was arrested early on Monday from his hotel room. This may well lead to an escalation of the political turmoil for he is reported to have warned that his followers would besiege the home of senior Army officers if he was arrested.
The political discourse in the country has plummeted in recent weeks and especially after the Opposition decided to come together. At Sunday’s rally, Maryam taunted Mr Khan that kids should keep away from the fight between elders, suggesting that the real battle was between her father and the Army establishment.
Another Opposition leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, told General Bajwa to stay away from “foolish friends”, suggesting that the Army had backed the wrong horse in its choice of Prime Minister. Just two years old, the government has faced increasing criticism for double digit inflation and negative growth, and for increasing intolerance towards critics and the Press.
The government has also been accused of mismanaging the coronavirus epidemic, for while the case load is nowhere near India’s, the government has been accused of both under-reporting numbers and inadequate testing. While the next elections are only due in 2023, it is clear the Opposition is not prepared to wait that long, nettled as it is by allegations of corruption against leaders of its two most prominent leaders, Mr Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari. In the ultimate analysis, though, Mr Khan’s fate will rest in the hands of the powerful Army.