World Bulletin / News Desk
Pakistan’s major opposition alliance led by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan on Tuesday spurned a fresh offer by the government for the formation of a Supreme Court commission to probe into the allegations of rigging in the most recent general elections in May 2013.
The offer thrown by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the nation on Tuesday evening in a bid to break the months-long deadlock was instantly rejected by Khan who vowed to kick off his long march on the capital as scheduled on August 14.
“The government is ready to constitute a three-member Supreme Court commission to probe into the allegations of rigging in the general elections,” Sharif who is serving for the third term as premier, said referring to Khan’s demand that he wanted the rigging probe through such a commission.
“My government is requesting the Supreme Court to form a three-member bench to probe into the allegations of rigging in the general elections,” Sharif added.
Khan however was quick to back out demanding Sharif’s resignation.
“As long as Nawaz Sharif is holding the office of the prime minister, there will be no use of the Supreme Court commission,” Khan told a press conference reacting to Sharif’s offer.
“Therefore, he must resign first, then we will accept the probe (into rigging claims) through the Supreme Court commission,” he added.
Khan also demanded the dissolution of the election commission blaming it for being a part of rigging in the general elections.
Capital under blockade
As behind-the-door reconciliation efforts are underway to break the ice between the government and the opposition, so is the crackdown.
Hundreds of opposition workers belonging to Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) of Canada-returned politician cum religious scholar Dr Tahir ul Qadri in several towns of northeastern Punjab province - the epicenter of clashes between police and political activists - were arrested in a night-long swoop.
Hundreds of PTI workers heading towards Islamabad from southern Sindh province were stopped at Sindh-Punjab border where they were staging a sit-in.
Police have virtually besieged Islamabad by blocking all roads linking it to rest of the country in a bid to prevent the participants of long march from entering the capital.
The government has already called out to the army by invoking a special article in the constitution to assist the civil administration.
The government has announced that it would not let the long march to enter the capital as analysts are expecting a massive showdown between police and the opposition workers in Lahore, the capital of Punjab where thousands of workers have already gathered to kick off their march on the capital on August 14.
Question of army involvment
While police and paramilitary manned barricades round the city, how far Khan and Qadri succeed in destabilising the government could ultimately depend on the stance taken by a military with a long history of mounting coups.
The protesters insist they are reformers crusading against corruption and say last year's election was fraudulent, whereas Sharif's loyalists accuse them of being a front for darker, anti-democratic forces.
While the political temperature has become more feverish, Pakistan's generals have stayed silent. Exchanges of fire between Pakistani and Indian forces on the ceasefire line that acts as a de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region have added to the tension.
Many analysts doubt whether the military wants to seize power, but there is a widespread perception that it could use the opportunity to put the civilian government under its thumb.
"The idea was to put pressure on our government and it has worked," a minister in Sharif's cabinet told Reuters, requesting anonymity.
"Once this is over, things will be a lot more difficult for the government. The decision-making space will be reduced. It is unfortunate that anti-democratic forces have pushed things to this point."
Speaking to journalists in Lahore on Monday, Information Minister Pervais Rashid was more direct, accusing a former "spymaster" of coordinating the security for Khan's protest.
Pakistani media identified him as Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who retired as head of the military's feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate two years ago.
Neither Pasha or Khan were available for comment.
For all the conspiracy theories over the brewing crisis, Sharif's loyalists have, however, avoided spreading suspicion over serving generals, and the government last month entrusted security in the capital to the military.
"There may be individuals involved in this (protest), friends of Musharraf, perhaps. But we don't see any evidence that the army as an institution is involved," said Ahsan Iqbal, the secretary-general of Sharif's party.
Both Khan and Qadri have also repeatedly denied having secret military support.
"I am not saying call in the army," Khan said on a televised speech Monday. "The army is not the solution."
A military spokesman did not return messages but the military has often said it does not meddle in politics.
Last Mod: 13 Ağustos 2014, 23:47