Pakistan in Turmoil Over Sharif Bans

Protests in Pakistan, Stock Market Tumbles Over Political Confrontation

by Jason Ditz, February 25, 2009

Protests were sparked across Pakistan today when the Supreme Court decided that Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and opposition leader, as well as his younger brother Shahbaz were ineligible to hold public offices. The ruling brought down the Punjabi Provincial government, which Shahbaz was chief minister of, and placed the province under direct national control.

Enraged supporters of the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) burned tires in the streets, and the stock market plummeted over 5% in a single trading session as the ban on some of the most influential opposition figures in the nation.

Sharif’s PML-N was part of a coalition government briefly after the 2008 election, but left in August when the ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) reneged on a promise to reinstate judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf. PML-N officials slammed the ruling as a political move by President Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP.

Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar claimed that the PML-N was exploiting the decision to derail national unity, and urged the Sharif brothers to “control their supporters in the interest of democracy.” The ban was connected to an incident during the 1999 coup that brought Gen. Musharraf to power: then Prime Minister Sharif attempted to foil the coup by ordering Musharraf’s aircraft diverted. After Musharraf seized power, he had Sharif convicted of “hijacking” over the incident.

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