Planned protests in Pakistan likely to be violent despite government attempts to
break up opposition coalition
By Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Analysis, IHS Country Risk
14 August 2014
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 12 August made a television address in which he
offered conciliatory measures to opposition groups that are calling for his resignation.
Specifically, Sharif announced the formation of a judicial commission that will look into allegations
of fraud in the 2013 election. Until now, this has been the main reason for protest calls by
opposition leader Imran Khan.
Sharif also said that the government had no issue with peaceful protests, but would not allow
violent elements to hold the country hostage.
Sharif was alluding to the supporters of religious leader Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has announced his
backing for Khan's "million-man march" to Islamabad today (14 August), and who had, according
to local media sources, told his supporters to attack police officers if they attempted to stop them
from progressing to Islamabad.
Qadri's supporters have been fighting with police in Lahore over the past several days.
Khan's refusal of Sharif's offer will raise risks of civil unrest in Islamabad and other districts of the
Punjab province during the next five days. The government is attempting to divide the opposition,
taking a softer approach in dealing with Khan, whom they consider to be a genuine political force
(Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf party has the third-highest number of seats in parliament and polled the
second-largest number of votes in the 2013 election). At the same time, the government is taking a
harder line with Qadri, who is perceived as having no genuine political support.
IHS sources and media outlets in Pakistan have alleged that Qadri's call for the overthrow of the
current system is being covertly encouraged by the army to exert pressure on Sharif. In order to
prevent the march, the government has deployed large numbers of police and blocked entry and exit
points to Islamabad and other districts en route to the capital, such as Chakwal, Gujranwala, Gujrat,
and Jhelum. However, it is likely that Qadri's supporters, who tend to be more militant than Khan's,
will try to cause blockades and trigger fighting with the police.
Disruptions to traffic and all cargo will be severe on the M1 motorway and the Grand Trunk Road, the
principal routes to Islamabad, while opposition activists who when they reach the capital will attempt
to besiege government buildings, such as parliament, the Prime Minister's House, and the Federal
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