Pakistan’s government is in dire straights today, with the prime minister facing arrest at any moment for his role in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal and tens of thousands of protesters staging a sit-in in the capital city. To the ruling PPP, whose reign has become synonymous with corruption and dirty politics, it feels like business as usual, and defiant officials are demanding the whole thing simply go away.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who is himself facing corruption charges for several years but can never really be arrested by virtue of his role as the leader of the nation’s police, today not only reiterated claims that “terrorists” were going to attack the protesters, but threatened to hold the protesters accountable for any terrorist attacks they get hit with, saying it was time for them to simply go home.
The protesters, led by religious leader Tahirul Qadri, are demanding early elections and a caretaker government to oversee them. Officials have insisted that these demands are “unconstitutional” and that none of their demands will be met.
This sort of “brave face” reaction to mass protests is common enough in Pakistan, but at the same time officials are accusing Qadri of plotting a full-scale revolution in the country, and with both religious sensibilities and the cause of democratic reform on his side, he seems to have the backing to potentially make something happen.
The PPP is painting Qadri, the arrest warrant against the PM, and the massive public protests as part of a broad conspiracy to facilitate a military coup, but Pakistan’s military leadership seems reluctant to intervene in domestic politics (unusual compared to the nation’s long history of coups), while the growing unrest seems predictable given the rising discontent with PPP rule.
Even suspicion over the corruption charges seems unwarranted, since officials knew long before they installed Ashraf in the position that he was facing such charges, and if he was the only “frontrunner” the PPP had for the position that didn’t have an existing arrest warrant out for him at the time, it still stood to reason that the scandal over the “rental power plants” would continue to move forward until it left him in the exact same position as his predecessors.