5 Things You Need To Know About The Anti-Government Protests In Pakistan

August 20, 2014: Here’s why tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Pakistan.

 A supporter of Mohammad Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek, prays in front of a container barricade wearing protective gear, during Revolution March to the parliament house in Islamabad August 19, 2014.

The streets of Islamabad – the capital city of Pakistan – remain flooded with tens of thousands of people on Wednesday who want the ruling government to step down and resign.

The protests – which remained peaceful over the course of one week –raised questions about the stability of the South Asian nation that has a population of about 180 million people.

What's happening in Pakistan right now is really important, but the situation is presently unfolding and it can be tough to keep track.

Here are answers to some of the most basic questions you might have on the issue. Below is a simplification of all the complex information available on the anti-government movement which has underscored the fragility of democracy in Pakistan.

1. The leaders

There are two separate protests, under two different leaders, with the same purpose – to overthrow the ruling government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Imran Khan:

Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-opposition politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, gestures to his supporters during the Freedom March in Islamabad August 18, 2014.

Cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan is one of the most popular as well as controversial figures in Pakistan.

Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ("Movement for Justice") has morphed into a dominant political force over the past decade.

It’s widely believed that the former sportsman was responsible for getting many Pakistanis to come out and vote for the first time in the general election held last year.

However, he is also known as “Taliban Khan” because of his soft stance on terrorist organizations. Khan believes in negotiations with the Taliban based in Pakistan instead of using military force against them.

READ MORE: The First Democratic Transition In Pakistan Might Not Be All Smooth Sailing

Tahir ul-Qadri:

Mohammad Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek, gestures to his supporters before addressing them outside the parliament house in Islamabad August 20, 2014.

Tahir ul-Qadri is a Pakistani-Canadian Sufi cleric who remains one of the most unlikely leaders of the country.

His political party, the Pakistan People's Movement, though founded in 1990, rose to prominence in 2013 when Qadri led a massive assembly of charged protestors to Islamabad aimed at “bringing about a change” in the country.

RELATED: Pakistan’s March To A Change; Or Is This Another Ploy By The Armed Forces? Conspiracies Thrive

2. The problem

Although there are two different political groups involved in the protests, both of them are anti-government.

Khan called for a “Freedom March” (aka Tsunami March) against the incumbent administration’s inadequacy in addressing and resolving allegations of rigging in the 2013 general election.

He also called for a widespread civil disobedience in the country, urging his supporters to stop paying taxes and utility bills in a bid to oust the government.

Tahir ul-Qadri, a self-proclaimed Stalinist revolutionary, on the other hand demands that Pakistan's democratic system be reformed.

On June 17, 2014, activists from Qadri’s political party clashed with law enforcement officers, resulting in the death of 14 members and more than 90 injuries due to bullets fired by police.

Subsequently in August, he called for public protests to avenge the fallen activists and to throw the “criminals” out of the government.

3. The army’s response

Since Pakistan has remained a rather “coup-prone” country over the past six decades, there are speculations whether its army is engineering the twin protest movements behind the scenes.

Although there was no response initially, an anonymous government source told Reuters that the military has said there will be no coup. But if Prime Minister Sharif wants his government to survive, he will have to share space with the army.

Publicly, however, the military urged both the government and the protesting political parties to find a diplomatic solution.

4. The government’s response

So far, at the time of writing this post, the government has shown neither any flexibility nor hostility toward the protesters.

A senior government representative, though,has said that the ruling political party – Pakistan Muslim League – is ready to talk with the opposition “but not under duress.”

“We are ready to talk with both the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaa and Pakistan Awami Tehrik, but their unconstitutional demands cannot be accepted,” Federal Minister Saad Rafique told press reporters on Wednesday.

5. Criticism

A military operation was launched by Pakistan’s armed forces against insurgent groups in the northern part of the country borderingAfghanistan.

As a result of the offensive, 929,859 displaced civilians (from 80,302 families) were registered by Pakistani authorities as of July 14.

While the leaders of the twin protests, Khan and Qadri, have thousands of supporters, not everyone in Pakistan thinks the protests make sense – especially when there is a war going on in one part of the country.


There is also a lot of criticism surrounding the government’s indifference toward the chaos in Islamabad.

Will these protests be the tipping point for Pakistan’s fragile democracy? Only time will tell.

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