Pakistani PM makes Parliament appearance amid deepening crisis
Doubts were raised about Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s appearance in Parliament on Tuesday, as a deepening crisis over mass protests demanding his resignation prompted fears of an army intervention.
Sharif has called a joint session of Parliament and was expected to make an address on Tuesday, but as members streamed into the assembly, his office clarified that the proceedings would last all week.
“Everyone will be given a chance to speak and after that he may address the Parliament,” a Sharif spokesperson said.
Pakistan has been in turmoil since mid-August, when tens of thousands of protesters led by former cricket hero Imran Khan and outspoken cleric Tahir ul-Qadri gathered in the capital of Islamabad, refusing to leave unless Sharif resigns.
Demonstrations turned violent and chaotic over the weekend, as protesters armed with clubs and wearing gas masks against teargas tried to storm Sharif’s residence. Three people were killed and hundreds wounded.
Speculation over military intervention
The chaotic scenes in the usually orderly Pakistani capital have unnerved a nation where power has often changed hands though military coups rather than elections, prompting speculation that the military was prepared to intervene again.
Few expect the army to actually seize power this time, but many believe it is using the protracted crisis to weaken Sharif and take control over key security and foreign policy issues, such as relations with neighbouring India and Afghanistan.
By convening a joint session of Parliament, where Sharif has a solid majority, the prime minister seeks to reaffirm that he is fully in control of the situation. He and his aides have repeatedly said he would not quit.
Clashes continued into Monday, with hundreds of people storming and ransacking the state television headquarters in central Islamabad, prompting the army to step in to clear and secure the building.
But the capital was quiet on Tuesday, with no reports of violence and a crowd of a few thousand protesters amassing peacefully in the so-called “red zone” – a central area where Sharif’s office, Parliament and many embassies are located.