Inconsolable In Islamabad

by Dish Staff

Pakistan may be on the brink of a political crisis after opposition leader Imran Khan suspended talks with the government in response to the appointment of a new police chief in Islamabad:

Khan, a famed cricketer-turned-politician, and fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have led massive protests from the eastern city of Lahore to the gates of parliament in Islamabad to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of rigging the vote that brought him to power last year. The protests have raised fears of unrest in the nuclear-armed US ally with a history of political turmoil, and after a request from the country’s powerful military the government convened talks with Khan and Qadri’s representatives early Thursday. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Khan’s party, told reporters that the opposition presented six demands, including Sharif’s resignation. …

Later on Thursday, Khan told his supporters that the government had removed the Islamabad police chief for not using force against him, and warned that the new police chief, Khalid Khattak, would follow orders to disperse the protests, which have thus far been peaceful.

The army’s growing role in containing this crisis makes Michael Kugelman very nervous:

With Islamabad increasingly on the defensive, the military is gaining an upper hand. Consider Sharif’s decision last week to make the armed forces responsible for security of sensitive facilities in Islamabad during the protests. This can be interpreted either as a sop to the military or as an acknowledgment that the government can’t protect its own people — or itself. Additionally, Sharif’s Independence Day speech on Aug. 14, the first official day of the protests, was rife with praise for Pakistan’s military. That such praise came from a civilian leader as combative as Sharif is quite telling. Most significantly, on Aug. 19, as marchers entered the Red Zone, the government ceded full security of the area to the military. The government gave the military carte blanche to do what it so relishes: serve as the nation’s protector and savior.

Furthermore, with many Pakistanis cheering on a countermilitancy offensive underway in North Waziristan, the military’s star could continue to rise in the coming weeks. Possible retaliatory terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities could prompt more calls for the military to provide security, which would further embolden Pakistan’s most powerful institution.