Several months ahead of national elections in Pakistan, a mass protest calling on the government to resign has taken hold of Islamabad. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have been camping outside Parliament in the capital, led by a Canadian Pakistani cleric named Muhammad Tahrir-ul-Qadri.
Mr. Qadri specifically called on Pakistan’s Parliament to be dissolved by a deadline that passed on Tuesday or face what he called “the People’s Parliament” and a “revolution.” Within hours of his speech, Pakistan’s Supreme Court issued an order that is being interpreted as calling for the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over corruption charges stemming from his tenure as Minister of Water and Power in 2010.
According to the BBC, “The Supreme Court order says the prime minister and others should be arrested and produced before court within 24 hours,” but a government minister, Farooq Naek has maintained that the order in fact simply leaves that decision up to the National Accountability Bureau. Still, Mr. Qadri and his supporters at the protest declared the court order a major victory in line with their demands.
Reformist political activist and former cricket star Imran Khan, who heads the Tehrik-e-Insaf party has also joined in the calls for resignation, aimed specifically at President Asif Ali Zardari.
In addition to the calls for resignation, activists are calling for electoral reform and immediate new elections. The Pakistan People’s Party, which won a majority in the last elections, were expecting to retain power in the upcoming May elections. However, this week’s series of incidents may change expectations. If this government manages to remain in power until the end of its term, it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected civilian government will have served a full term.
Meanwhile tensions between Pakistan and long-time rival India have flared up again, over the embattled state of Kashmir after a Pakistani soldier was killed by Indian forces. Earlier in the month, two soldiers from both sides were killed, threatening a tenuous ceasefire.
GUEST: Junaid Ahmad, Assistant Professor of Law at Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan, currently visiting the United States