Pakistan is bracing for more protests after an alliance of opposition parties kicked off a series of rallies calling for the resignation of PM Imran Khan.
Khan’s administration is facing its biggest political challenge yet as it tries to manage a backlash over soaring food prices. Pakistan is importing sugar, tomatoes and the most wheat in a decade to stabilise prices after the South Asian nation witnessed its first economic contraction in about seven decades following a coronavirus lockdown.
At the same time, the government’s crackdown on opposition groups and the media has intensified. In an unprecedented move, two former prime ministers, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Nawaz Sharif, along with the current prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, have been charged with treason for criticising the military.
Pakistan’s powerful military commanders are also facing unusual criticism from opposition parties who have accused them of meddling in politics and toppling governments, intensifying the pressure on Khan’s pro-army administration.
Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and General Faiz Hameed, the head of the country’s spy agency, of conspiring to topple his previous government to help bring Khan to power. His claim set the tone for the 11-party opposition movement’s series of rallies that aim to oust Khan from power within three months.
The army has always been criticised for its outsize role in politics and governance, but “this is the first time its top leadership has been named for ousting elected governments,” said Naeem Ahmed, the chairman of international relations department at University of Karachi. The opposition parties are “feeling insecure after a third political force emerged on the political horizon and formed a government with the support of the military establishment,” he said.