After an eerie calm over the weekend, Pakistan was bracing for another tense day on Monday due to a planned protest by a key government ally, the Supreme Court taking up a plea against its order to hold election on May 14 and former prime minister Imran Khan appearing in a high court.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and including about a dozen parties, announced on May 12 to hold a protest rally outside the apex court’s building against its alleged partiality towards 70-year-old Khan who was set free by it after arrest in a corruption case.
The protest by the largest coalition partner of the government comes as the authorities imposed a ban on political gatherings in the federal capital and also the military had been deployed to control any violence.
The protest planned to be held in Islamabad’s Red Zone would raise serious questions about government policy of stopping rivals like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf from political activity in the capital and looking the other way when its own partners bring protesters.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that reports provided by security agencies about the protest were “very alarming” and asked the organisers to change the venue.
“We are scared that if the protest is held in the Red Zone tomorrow, the Islamabad police have said that it will be difficult to control the protesters. So, I and Ishaq Dar (Finance Minister) went to Fazlur Rehman and requested him to hold the protest outside the Red Zone,” he said at a press conference.
The minister hoped that the Maulana would accept the request.
The protest comes as a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, is set to hear a petition by the Election Commission of Pakistan to review the order of April 4 to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.
The deadline has been missed and the chief justice already indicated that the law would take its course. There is fear that the court may launch contempt proceedings against the prime minister and other officials for failing to implement its orders.
In a related development, Khan would appear before the Lahore High Court to seek bail in various cases to avoid arrest in the light of the orders by Islamabad High Court which stopped authorities from arresting him in any case till Monday.
His party told PTI that Khan would appear in person before the Lahore High Court.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sanaullah said that Khan could be arrested again if he was found to be involved in the recent protests across the country. He also accused Khan of planning and strategizing the recent attacks on state installations.
“The sites were identified, highlighted and training was given to people,” he said. “This man is doing the politics of hatred … we knew about it but now it is out before the public.” He also said that whenever Khan’s party took to the streets, the same 100-200 people were found to be involved in violent activities. “So, this means that they have been trained to do this…Imran has trained them and they are his investment,” the minister said.
He warned that Khan’s party could be banned as there was no solution, but added that it was a legal process and would take time.
Separately, rallies were organised in different cities in support of the Pakistan Army which had come under unprecedented pressure after physical attacks by miscreants and the verbal onslaught by Khan after his release.
Local residents also gathered at the destroyed residence of Lahore Corps Commander where special prayers were offered in solidarity with the Pakistan Army.
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the protesters stormed the army headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and also torched the corps commander’s house in Lahore.
Police put the death toll in violent clashes to 10 while Khan’s party claims 40 of its workers lost their lives in the firing by security personnel.
Punjab Inspector General Police Dr Usman Anwar told a press conference on Sunday that over 3,500 people have been arrested in Punjab province for their involvement in violence erupted after Khan’s arrest. He said most of them will be tried in anti-terrorism courts.
Khan’s supporters also held peaceful rallies in different cities to show support for him despite a crackdown to arrest workers and leaders of the party.
Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.