Pakistan’s civilian government is bracing for a wave of protests this month, days after the military took responsibility for securing the capital amid the threat of militant attacks and the spectre of a political showdown.
Some Pakistanis fear that the country’s traditionally powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history, may use the protests to buttress its position at the expense of the fledgling civilian government.
“It’s not something that the military has choreographed, it is just benefiting from the civilian government’s weakness,” said columnist Ejaz Haider.
Activist and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, known for his passionate monologues, will hold a protest on Aug. 10. He has vowed to topple and jail government ministers by month-end.
Charismatic cricketer turned opposition politician Imran Khan has also announced that his supporters will hold a sit-in in the capital on Aug. 14. He wants the government to resign and new elections to be held.
“This will be the biggest demonstration in the history of Pakistan,” Khan told a news conference late on Tuesday.
Both Qadri and Khan have at times been seen by some Pakistanis as close to the military, or even as being used by the military to pressure the government. Both of them deny that and the military denies such meddling in politics.
Pakistan has weathered such protest marches before. Last year tens of thousands of Qadri supporters camped out along the main road in the capital for four days.
Yet the upcoming protests have sent ripples of unease through the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million because of its history of coups, corruption and militancy.
The stock market has dipped and the government has postponed a planned increase in electricity rates.