Pakistan’s political crisis deepened on Monday with cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri giving a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down after a former top election commission official backed protesters’ allegations of rigging in last year's polls.
Buoyed by former additional secretary election commission of Pakistan Afzal Khan's claim that the general election in which Sharif won by a landslide was rigged, protesters headed by Qadri and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan stepped their campaign against the government.
"I ask the members of National Assembly to leave the house before my deadline expires," Qadri said addressing his supporters outside the Parliament.
"All the credit for this struggle goes to the people," he said. Qadri blamed the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for letting the situation escalate to this stage. Qadri said on the twelfth day of the protest, it was now transforming into a "revolution". The PAT chief alleged that the procedure followed to select the election setup and the way the polls were held, assemblies were formed, was in clear violation of the constitution. "We consider the government unconstitutional from the very first day," Qadri said.
Qadri gave the 48-hour deadline to the government, asking it to dissolve the assemblies, let the FIR of the Model Town incident in which 14 of his supporters were killed be registered and release a joint investigation team report. He also demanded that Prime Minister Sharif and his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif be arrested.
In an interview to a private TV channel on Sunday night, Afzal Khan had alleged, that former chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice (retd) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice (retd) Riaz Kayani and former Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim were involved in the rigging. Khan retired on May 17 last year.
Kayani on Monday refuted Afzal Khan's allegations, terming them as bogus and a conspiracy. He said Khan had leveled false allegations, because he had not being given a service-extension. "Election 2013 unravelling as ppl come forward 2 give evidence of planned rigging. Latest is confession of Retd Add Sec ECP M Afzal Khan," Imran Khan tweeted. "BUT Nawaz Sharif resignation necessary so all those in the know & willing to testify are given security & protection," he tweeted.
No talks took place on Monday between the government and protesters. Three rounds of negotiations have failed to break the deadlock that has now lasted for 12 days.
In his fiery address to the supporters, Qadri also held out a white sheet of cloth used to cover the dead before entering them into graves, and said either he or Sharif would have to wear it.
The first deadline of 48 hours was issued by Qadri when he led the protestors from Lahore to Islamabad over a week ago.
Sharif on Sunday said there was no justification for the protests as he has accepted all constitutional demands of protesters. The third round of talks between government negotiators and Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf on Sunday night failed to break the logjam.
The PTI had proposed that the prime minister resign for a period of 30 days during which a judicial commission works 'independently' to determine if the May, 2013 elections were transparent. This demand though was rejected by the government, which said they had accepted almost all other demands of the PTI.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Supreme Court on Monday ordered the supporters of Khan and Qadri to clear the Constitution Avenue within 24 hours so that the movement of judges and officials is not hampered.
Thousands of supporters of Khan and Qadri are staging a sit-in on the Constitution Avenue on which the Parliament and the Supreme Court are situated. The protesters have blocked the main avenue for all kinds of traffic.
Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk said supporters of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek should move away from the road as "this route will be used to travel to the court" on Tuesday.
Image: A supporter of Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek, gestures as she reacts to a speech by Qadri in front of the Parliament house building during the Revolution March in Islamabad. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters