While the Pakistani government summoned the army into the capital city of Islamabad to “restore order” this weekend in the face of massive protests, they are also assuring that the military has no intention of using force to try to clear Islamist protesters from the streets.
At least 250 people, many of them police, have already been wounded, and the decision not to use force again is likely a function of how poorly Saturday’s violent police crackdown on the demonstrators went, and how much worse the protests were by the evening.
The protests started weeks ago as a sit-in by the Tehreek-e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY), a hardline Sufi group that was protesting the 2016 execution of Mumtaz Qadri for assassinating the Punjab governor. This issue centered on the controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
The small sit-in lasted a long time, fueling complaints from the judiciary, and some 8,500 security forces were deployed to disperse them Saturday. This started a fight that security forces not only lost, but which led to a massive growth in the Islamabad protest.
On top of the Islamabad protest, which just got a lot bigger, the failed crackdown also led to major rallies in Karachi and Lahore, and smaller rallies elsewhere across the country, with no sign of letting up
Analysts say they believe the deployment of the military, even without using immediate force, is an attempt to intimidate the protesters into backing off. in the face of the threat of eventual force. Paksitan’s Army has a long history of violent crackdowns against dissent, sometimes leading to outright coups d’etat. For now, however, the protesters seem unmoved.