Pakistan protests: Huge rally against Imran Khan draws comparisons to Thailand

Namita Singh
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Tens of thousands have joined protests against Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, amid concern at worsening economic conditions in the country.

The rally in Karachi on Sunday was the second major demonstration in three days, and included demands for former cricket star Mr Khan to step down.

Demonstrations were led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a new political alliance formed by nine major opposition parties last month. They accuse Mr Khan of being installed by the military in a rigged election two years ago.

The political unrest in Pakistan comes on the heels of the mounting pro-democracy rallies in Thailand’s Bangkok, where protesters are similarly demanding the loosening of the military’s grip on civilian political power.

The PDM has said it plans to hold several more rallies, public meetings and demonstrations across the country before a “decisive long march” to Islamabad in January next year.

The first of these rallies was held on Friday in Gujranwala near Lahore. Among the key topics discussed by speakers at the event were rising prices, power cuts, closure of businesses and other economic difficulties.

“You’ve snatched jobs from people. You have snatched two-time a day food from the people,” Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir of the three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, told the rally.

Ms Nawaz on Sunday also shared the platform with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose late mother Benazir Bhutto was also a prime minister. “Our farmers have hunger in their homes... our youth is disappointed,” said Mr Zardari, whose Pakistan People’s Party governs the southern city of Karachi.

The PDM also alleged that Mr Khan was not so much elected as he was selected in the 2018 election by the Pakistan Army after Mr Sharif, the 70-year-old leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), was ousted from power in 2017 by the Supreme Court on graft charges.

Addressing the rally via a video link from London, Mr Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI head Lt General Faiz Hameed of interfering in the elections of 2018 to ensure the victory of Khan. The next general election in the country is scheduled for 2023.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf swept to power for the first time in its 23-year history in 2018, winning 156 seats in the 342-member lower house of parliament. It also formed provincial governments in Punjab, the country’s largest province, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The military, which denies meddling in politics, is yet to respond specifically to Sharif’s accusations. Khan, who denies the army helped him win, has defended the military and on Saturday threatened a fresh crackdown on opposition leaders.

Since Pakistan’s founding in 1947, 18 men and women have been appointed or elected as prime minister. Not one of them has served the entirety of their term.

Additional reporting by agencies