– “Pakistan Spring” Escalates; 3 Dead, Over 470 Injured As “Soft Coup” Hardens (ZeroHedge, Sep 1, 2014):
The violent protests that raged yesterday have turned deadly as clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters left 3 dead and at least 470 injured according to The WSJ. The military, who are acting as mediators between PM Sharif and opposition leader Imran Khan have warned both sides that they neither support the others view or sanction further use of violence to suppress crowds. Mr. Khan exclaimed to the people, “if you want to be free, if you want to have a real democracy, the time has come;” as another protester noted “the police were brutal, but that is good because whenever blood is shed in a movement, it turns into a revolution.” Meanwhile, the so-called “soft-coup” as WaPo refers to it continues to harden (threatening $3bn of US aid) as Prime Minister Sharif is left with fewer and fewer options.
— 1924 (@1924_AEK) September 1, 2014
— Mundo El Comercio (@Mundo_ECpe) September 1, 2014
Islamabad has been paralysed since an estimated 70,000 protesters arrived from Lahore on August 15 and marched on Constitutional Avenue – which houses the National Assembly and the Prime Minister’s residence. Since then schools and offices have remained closed.
— 1924 (@1924_AEK) September 1, 2014
Protesters sezied State TV (then lost control again)
Early on Monday, a group of between 400 and 600 protesters invaded Pakistan Television’s English-language service in the heart of the capital and forced it off air. Shortly before ending transmission, its announcer said: “They have stormed the PTV office. PTV staff performing their duties are being beaten up.”
The brief occupation was ended by Pakistan Rangers paramilitary troops.
PM Sharif’s room for manoeuvre was severely restricted by Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif on Sunday, when a conference of his corps commanders issued a statement voicing “serious concern” over the violence and “large scale injuries and loss of lives”. He warned that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem”.
The army chief had publicly clashed with the prime minister on Friday after Mr Sharif denied he had asked him to mediate in talks with Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri earlier in the day. He told the National Assembly that the army “did not ask to play the role of mediator, neither have we requested them to play such a role.”
The “soft-coup” continues…
For much of Pakistan’s independent existence, the country’s politics have been dominated by its powerful military. The generals have a long history of interrupting and meddling with civilian rule. The election last year of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif marked the first time in almost seven decades that Pakistan was able to carry out a peaceful transfer of power between civilian governments.
But the specter of the army now looms large once more. In order to placate heated protests against his rule, Sharif agreed this week to mediation by the army, an institution that is respected by a vast cross-section of society.
“If Nawaz Sharif survives, for the rest of his term, he will be a ceremonial prime minister—the world will not take him seriously,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based analyst told the Wall Street Journal. “A soft coup has already taken place. The question is whether it will harden.”
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A group of hackers in Pakistan hacked several government portals, including that of the Army, and leaked 23,000 bank records in a bid to support the ongoing anti-government protests in the country, the Dawn reported.
‘Islamabad Administration has reported that police used 10,000 gas shells, 1000 chemical gas, 5000 rubber bullets on protesters demanding resignation of Nawaz Sharif’ said Imran Khan.
— Ahmed (@Shaforama) September 1, 2014
Bunlar da Pakistan Gezi’cileri. pic.twitter.com/3Nra3kyD7n
— Nehir Nur (@NJakaranda) September 1, 2014
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Why the trouble now after last year’s successful election?
The real origins of the two big demonstrations that began in mid-August in Lahore, moved to the capital Islamabad and then erupted in violence – causing three deaths in an attempt to storm the official residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – are a little obscure. But the street supporters of Imran Khan, the former cricket star turned politician, complain about corruption and say the general election of May last year won by Mr Sharif was rigged. Those loyal to Tahirul Qadri, an Islamic scholar with a fiery turn of phrase, talk of the need for “revolution” and are angered by the police killings of up to 14 of their number in previous demonstrations in Lahore in June. The two protests have coalesced in an encampment in the so-called secure “red zone” in the heart of the capital, in front of Parliament and other official buildings.
What’s in it for Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri?
This is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the crisis. Although the 2013 election was marred by violence and doubtless by incidents of cheating, most observers say Mr Sharif – supported by the majority of voters in the populous Punjab – was the clear overall winner. The election was also hailed as an important step towards a sustainable democracy, because it marked the first time that one democratically elected government had taken over from another in Pakistan’s history. Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Justice Movement) came third, but won control of the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. His enemies accuse him of ambition and vanity because he failed to win the post of prime minister for himself, and some members of his party have rebelled against what they see as his undemocratic tactics. Mr Qadri, meanwhile, is normally based in Canada. He is a religious moderate by the standards of Islamic Pakistan, but politically radical – inveighing against corruption and nepotism among politicians.
Is the army behind all this?
Yes, at least that is what many Pakistanis believe, including those with a military background. The army overthrew Mr Sharif once before, when General Pervez Musharraf staged a military coup d’état in 1999. This time around, Mr Sharif is seen to have offended the generals in three ways. First, he is determined to pursue the case for treason against Mr Musharraf, instead of letting him fly back quietly into exile in the Gulf or in London. Second, Mr Sharif is eager to make peace with India, and the armed forces need India to remain the bogeyman so that they can justify their large numbers and hefty slice of the annual budget. Third, Mr Sharif has been trying to negotiate peace with Islamic extremists of the Pakistan Taliban, but the army has come round to the view that the militants must be crushed. The generals struggled for months before winning Mr Sharif’s authorisation of their current offensive in North Waziristan along the Afghan border.
Why is Nawaz Sharif unable to cope?
He has always been rather unfocused, but at the time of last year’s election he seemed to have learnt from past mistakes (this is his third go as prime minister). Since taking office, he has launched various projects – including power stations – that should eventually help alleviate the country’s electricity shortage and other problems. Yet political commentators say he now appears to have lost interest in governing. As the crisis brewed, he baffled his supporters by spending 10 days on a spiritual journey in Saudi Arabia.
Is there an economic impact on Pakistan?
Yes, but it is hard to calculate. Transport and the functioning of the central government have been badly disrupted by more than two weeks of troubles, and the US might be forced to withhold some of its aid for Pakistan if the armed forces overtly took power. The real problem is the loss of what little international confidence there was in Pakistan’s investment climate.
Among the possible outcomes is the resignation of Mr Sharif and the installation of a technocratic government tacitly backed by the army, followed by fresh elections. Other options include an outright military takeover (the army has run the country for half of its existence since 1947). Or Pakistanis could endure a long period of instability as a weakened Mr Sharif hangs on to power.
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Senior government sources believe the army, or at least a section of it, is seeking to destabilise Mr Sharif’s government and wants fresh elections to oust or weaken him.
“There is a strong belief that they [the demonstrators] can’t continue doing what they’re doing without support from certain sections of the army.