For the past several weeks, Pakistan has faced a set of dual protests that have sparked a political crisis. One protest, led by former cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, head of the PTI party, draws on Khan’s allegation of widespread rigging in the landmark 2013 elections. Khan’s demands include electoral reforms, a redo of the election, and, controversially, the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party.
The other protest, led by Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who heads the PAT party, seeks justice for followers killed and injured in a June incident at his headquarters. Qadri has demanded a full investigation, and also seeks the resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the Prime Minister’s brother. After marching to Islamabad and holding daily rallies, the protests eventually turned violent. While the violence subsided, and the army has mediated talks among the government, Khan and Qadri, the situation has not yet abated.
These crises come at a difficult time for Pakistan. The country is dealing with massive floods after heavy monsoon rains. Furthermore, because of the protests, the center of Islamabad has been shut down for more than month, freezing legislative and ministerial activity in the capital. As a result, the government has been unable to make any progress on meeting an extensive set of conditions to keep badly-needed funds flowing under an IMF loan facility. Moreover, the much-awaited visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping has been postponed.
Over the past year, as shown by CIPE’s partner PRIME, an Islamabad-based think tank, the government has made only limited progress toward implementing an ambitious economic reform agenda, thus engendering widespread frustration. Against this backdrop, many observers worried that the military could seize power again, as it has done in the past, or at least seek greater influence. Citing a report from the US Congressional Research Service, there was fear that this could cause the US to withdraw crucially needed support.