Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Revolution From Within: Is Violent Political Confrontation Imminent In Pakistan?

Imran Khan
"Change isn't coming...its here!" says Imran Khan to his supporters.

But what sort of change is it going to be?

[We don't know yet, but I am updating this post more or less continuously. Scroll down for the latest.]

With bated breath and a growing sense of horror, I am tracking current events in Pakistan, where Imran Khan looks determined to lead more than 50,000 unarmed supporters on a march through barricades reportedly guarded by police, military, and/or paramilitary forces.

Imran became a national hero as the captain of the only Pakistani cricket team to win a World Cup, and he did it by taking matters into his own hands, dominating the final game, apparently through force of will. After he retired from cricket, he became a philanthropist, creating a foundation to raise money to build hospitals, in a country where they were badly needed. And then he became politician.

Imran addressed the PTI rally on Monday.
[White Star photo via Dawn]
As leader of the PTI party, he has been gradually gaining ground "within the system." But now he is suddenly working "outside the system," leading a protest demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Nawaz Sharif says he will negotiate on any issue except resignation. Imran says resignation is his only non-negotiable demand, and that he is prepared to lead a procession of unarmed supporters into Islamabad's heavily guarded "Red Zone," seeking the immediate overthrow of the government.

Imran says there's a game-changing announcement coming at 8pm local time tonight -- less than two hours from now, as I write. And even Reuters has begun to pay attention.

Red Zone: Pakistan Army puts Islamabad troops on 'high alert'

I have been paying close attention to Dawn, the Pakistani daily. Dawn's home page is updated frequently and the coverage is usually quite good.

Peshawar's The Frontier Post is another good source at the moment.

I will update this post as time permits. But for the moment, here are a few links:

Dangerous game: PTI to march into Red Zone with women, children

Nawaz meets COAS [Army Chief of Staff] to discuss security situation

Needless to say, Dawn's editorial staff does not approve of PTI’s latest move, speculating that is represents Imran's exit strategy and a dangerous kind of political theatre.

There's more background and links to previous coverage here: Imran launches 'don't pay taxes' movement


Dawn says: Red Zone security handed over to Pakistan Army: Nisar
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday evening announced that Pakistan Army has been given the responsibility of securing the federal capital’s sensitive Red Zone area.
The Frontier Post is reporting that Imran is surrounded: Forces surround Imran Khan's container
An hour before the dead line for the March towards Red zone ends, the law enforcement agencies have besieged Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan’s container present at PTI's dharna venue in Islamabad.

The roads to Islamabad have also been blocked and the rangers have surrounded the parliament house.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had earlier issued strict orders to the police, not to use force.
Meanwhile, also according to The Frontier Post: Government agrees to PTI's five demands: sources
The federal government has agreed to fulfill Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) five demands including recount in disputed constituencies, electoral reforms, formation of new election commission and action against those involved in election rigging, Local TV reported on Tuesday.
So perhaps violence will be avoided.

However, Dawn reports the march is still on: Red Zone: Imran says I’ll lead, you follow
Hours after the deadline given to the government by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expired, PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday evening urged his followers and supporters to march into the federal capital’s Red Zone.

Speaking to his supporters near the most sensitive area of the country, Imran called on his supporters to follow him up to Parliament and surround the building. He asked his supporters to remain peaceful and not enter the building itself.

Reiterating that he would lead the march forward himself, the PTI Chairman thanked God for "fulfilling his desire of waking up the nation."

“We are not Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balochs or Punjabis, but only Pakistanis today.”

He asked his protesters whether they were ready to march into the Red Zone, receiving an emphatic "Yes!" in response. Imran urged party workers to remain peaceful and avoid confrontation with security forces. ... Addressing police and security officials guarding the Red Zone, he urged them not to use force against his supporters.
On the other hand ... Dawn reports: Red Zone orders: Use rubber bullets, teargas and 'lathi charge'
Police deputed in Islamabad's Red zone area were authorised to use force against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) protesters staging their Azadi March in the federal capital, according to the copy of a document available with Dawn.

The document, signed by a Supervisory Officer at the spot, allowed the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and lathi (baton) charge against the protesters if they entered the Red Zone.

Visuals and TV footage showed policemen and women, other security agency personnel (FC and Rangers) standing at the ready in riot gear.
And according to Reuters: 111 Brigade takes up positions in Red Zone
As twin protests in Islamabad entered a fifth day on Tuesday, the Pakistan Army has put its troops in Islamabad on ‘high alert’, with the 111 Brigade positioned in the Red Zone.

The 111 Brigade has often been used to secure Islamabad - as well as used in military takeovers.

Fearing any untoward incident taking place if the PTI or PAT enter the Red Zone, Lieutenant General Qamar Bajwa, Commander 10 Corps, contacted top officials of the Islamabad Police for coordination to ensure security of key government installations located on Constitution Avenue.

The troops were deployed in the federal capital under Article 245 of the Constitution. The government had taken this controversial measure for securing Islamabad amid the spectre of a political showdown. The army is however not bound to act in aid of the Islamabad police in the enforcement of this section unless Chief Commissioner Islamabad orders them to do so.

In an earlier report, a military source put the number of troops stationed in the capital for security duties at about 350. But the city administration had told reporters that over 500 soldiers had been deployed.
The Frontier Post says the march is on, despite security precautions: Security in Red Zone on High Alert as Marchers proceed


Dawn is providing frequent updates on this page. Here are some excerpts:
9:22pm : "I'm coming! I'm coming to hold you accountable!" Imran says, as his mobile-container progresses forward. ... On the other side of the containers, a massive contingent of security forces await the marchers.

9:26pm: The PTI and PAT rallies have merged to advance as one.

9:28pm: Policemen in riot gear -- helmets, shields, batons, knee pads -- are seen patrolling the entrance of the Red Zone. A violent clash seems moments away.

9:30pm: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he will not resign under any circumstance, source say.

Workers wearing hard hats are taking pliers and clipping the heavy chains that have bound containers. It is clearly visible that Imran Khan is not at the front of the crowd.

Drones continue to cover the march as it advances.

9:38pm: DawnNews footage shows policemen laughing as they await the march advance. Drone footage shows hundreds of security forces standing ready.

9:45pm: The ... march participants have reached the precincts of the Red Zone. Imran Khan is flanked by senior PTI leaders Javed Hashmi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Pervez Khattak.

9:55pm: Female party workers shower policemen with rose petals and flash the peace sign, while some male workers hold up sticks and glass bottles to prepare for an impending clash with security forces.

10:00pm: Participants of the PTI and PAT rallies have entered the Red Zone and appear to be walking towards Parliament. Imran Khan earlier appealed to workers to stay peaceful and not enter any buildings. However, he directed his supporters to "take revenge" if something happens to him.

10:05pm: Television footage of the rallies in Islamabad so far show supporters of both PTI and PAT camps entering the Red Zone with ease. Police forces deployed for security have offered no resistance.

10:15pm: Most women in the protest appear to belong to the PAT. Police and journalists have estimated that Dr Qadri has amassed a larger crowd as compared with Imran Khan.

10:18pm: DawnNews is reporting that police has baton-charged PAT protesters near the Nadra Chowk.

10:26pm: More reports are emerging of skirmishes between security forces and protesters.

10:36pm: Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid: "We are still trying to resolve the situation through dialogue."

10:45pm: Police personnel deployed inside the Red Zone look on as PAT and PTI workers march towards Parliament House. So far, the entry to the sensitive area has been largely peaceful.

10:50pm: DawnNews footage shows an injured policeman inside the Red Zone, who appears to be bleeding from the nose. His comrade takes a cloth to clean up the wound. It is not clear how this policeman sustained this injury.

11:05pm: [DawnNews shows a crane moving a container.]

11:20pm: A screengrab shows a glimpse of [PAT leader] Dr Tahirul Qadri seated in his vehicle, en route to the Red Zone. Footage shows Qadri holding a rosary and craning his neck to look out the windshield in an effort to take in events unfolding before him.

11:25pm: Minister for Railways Saad Rafique posted to Twitter, "Police is not using force because PAT, PTI march is leading by women & children."

11:30pm: Speaking to DawnNews, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said that it is a peaceful march and the demonstrators will stay in the Red Zone till PM Nawaz Sharif and CM Shahbaz Sharif resign.

11:35pm: Barring a minor skirmish that left two PAT workers and one policeman injured, the march into the Red Zone has been largely peaceful thus far.

11:55pm: [PTI leaders spotted on a mobile stage cruising through the Red Zone.]

12:14am: "United States is keeping a close eye on political developments in Pakistan," says State Department.

"We appeal to the PTI and PAT to pursue a non-violent approach to resolve the issue...Pakistani political parties should work out their differences through dialogue," the US State Department said.

12:24am: PTI chief Imran Khan said that he has given Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif till Wednesday evening to resign.

"If Nawaz Sharif does not resign then we will enter into the PM House," said the PTI chief.

12:33am: ISPR spokesperson Asim Bajwa tweets: "Bldgs in red Zone r symbol of State & being protected by Army, therefore sanctity of these national symbols must be respected.

"Situation requires patience, wisdom & sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest."

12:55am: DawnNews reported sources as having said that the Pakistan Army has taken charge of the Interior Ministry's control room.

Former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah however has rejected the reports, saying that the Interior Ministry is still in charge of the control room.
And there's been nothing for the past several hours. So it appears the government is prepared to leave the protesters in the Red Zone overnight.

It is a very strange set of developments, to be sure.

No one -- not even Imran's fiercest opponents -- will question the purity of his heart. But many, even among his friends and supporters, are wondering whether he's lost his mind.

I have been posting updates on the comment thread at the Winter Patriot Community site. Click here to follow along, and please feel free to join the discussion.