Pakistani politics is heating up again. Eleven opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazlur (JUI-F) gathered together to call for the overthrow of Imran Khan’s government. They have formed an alliance called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and have so far held two massive demonstrations in Gujranwala and Karachi.
Public unhappiness over the performance of the Khan government is high due to deteriorating law and order, rising prices and food shortages and the PDM skillfully channels this discontent to bring down the government. Although mass protests and agitation are common in Pakistan, current protests are significant. First, the way the PDM deals with the military is unprecedented.
Pakistani politicians have criticized the military when it comes to opposition, but this time PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who is in exile in London, has done the unthinkable. In remotely delivered speeches to tens of thousands of people at the Gujranwala rally, Sharif accused Army Commander General Qamar Bajwa and ISI Commander Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed of conducting “fraudulent elections” and placing “a group of inefficient and incapable people,” in power.
Moreover, he had entered the lion’s cave as if, if only virtually, to do so. Gujranwala is in Punjab, where the military has a lot of support. Another unprecedented development in recent weeks is the growing rift between the Sindh police and military. Pakistani rangers reportedly forced the Sindh Police Inspector General to order the arrest of Safdar Avan, the husband of Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz. The disrespect given to their heads didn’t go well with the Sindh police. They are reportedly on mass leave to protest the military action.
Opposition parties have planned more rallies and agitation across the country in the coming weeks. Unrest will grow, especially if the government catches up with opposition leaders to put it out. China will monitor developments in Pakistan closely. It has invested billions of dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. All of Pakistan’s main parties support CPEC; So, whether Pakistan’s Khan Tehreek-e-Insaf is in power or not, won’t worry Beijing.
What Beijing needs for CPEC to succeed is stability in Pakistan, and will tell the military generals to make sure of this. Whether the military will call for talks between the government and opposition parties to remove the latter from the streets or whether it will prefer to use force remains to be seen. Given his notes, the last option is more likely, but it would not be wise.
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