How Pakistan's prime minister survived a crisis

A rumoured Egypt-style coup appears to have been averted in Pakistan due to an independent media and united parliament

How Pakistan's prime minister survived a crisis

Could Pakistan's army have pulled off a coup to emulate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi's in Egypt in 2013? Three weeks of anti-government protests and an increasingly vocal army had raised such fears. It now seems unlikely, with a vibrant media, united parliament and unexpectedly low protester turnout meaning that the opposition to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is fizzling out.

For weeks before former cricket star Imran Khan and controversial preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri launched their long march from the northeastern city of Lahore to Islamabad, there was speculation that the army was secretly involved. It may not have been pushing for Sharif's downfall itself but it was accused of giving Khan approval for the march. Another rumour was that the army had forged the unusual Khan-Qadri alliance; Khan simply wanted fresh elections and an investigation into voter fraud, Qadri was hoping for a comprehensive "revolution."

The army's role has come under ever-greater scrutiny in recent days. First, on August 28, it was announced that the army would be assuming the role of mediating the conflict. Then, after clashes began to break out between protesters and police on Saturday, the army stood idly by.

Even if it had hoped Khan and Qadri would help force Sharif out of power, it seems they are not pushing the matter. That could be because their combined forces could not quite muster the expected numbers. Khan and Qadri may have claimed a combined following of 2 million but independent observers were more conservative, putting the numbers at between 20,000 to 30,000. Those numbers shrank after the weekend's violence.

The media has also played a role. Apart from a select few, the independent media was openly critical of Khan and Qadri's protests. They criticized the army more indirectly by showing footage of soldiers outside state buildings -- which they were constitutionally bound to protect -- standing idly by while they were raided by protesters. On Monday, after protesters occupied the offices of a state TV channel, images circulated on social media showing soldiers offering water to protesters. It was only afterwards that the army publicly denied any role in the demonstrations.

The protest movement was also defeated by the rest of the opposition. Even the president of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf part rejected his demands after Saturday's violence, claiming that Khan was being backed by the army. That statement may turn out to be the moment when the army was finally forced onto the back foot. 

Excepting Khan's followers, parliament has unerringly backed Sharif, and the electoral process, during the whole crisis. The judiciary also barred state institutions from using the political turmoil as a pretext for acting outside the constitution to remove Sharif. 

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Last Mod: 05 Eylül 2014, 14:22
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