By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Some 40,000 police officers and 700 military personnel are protecting the red zone in Islamabad, Pakistan from a swarm of protesters. The ‘red zone’ is the political center of Islamabad, Pakistan’s parliament, embassies of Western governments and houses of VIPs.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s regime is being threatened by charged and polarized politics. The military is taking control of red zone security operations. The ‘red zone’ is threatened by the march of thousands of protestors (est. 55,000) led by a former candidate for prime minister named Imran Khan, who contends that last year’s election results were fraudulent and that Prime Minister Sharif should resign.
Also accompanying him is anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is reported to reside in Canada and who has called for a “people’s parliament,” “a true democracy” and “no terrorism.”
“The government will not use force and will tolerate them,” Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, initially told Geo TV at the start of the protest several days ago. “We are still ready to talk to you.”
The police and military have barricaded the area using shipping containers. Protestors have been warned not to enter the restricted red zone and Khan has been banned from entering as well. Already, demonstrators have breached the boundary using wire cutters and cranes to move the crates.
Aside from the march on parliament, which is a direct confrontational challenge to Sharif and potential for rioting or possible feared violent coup, the second largest political power, Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (TPI) has announced that it will withdraw completely from the national political process in boycott, with all of its members offering their resignations from parliament.
Pakistan faces on-going military engagements with the Taliban and extremely high level terrorist threats, high unemployment, power shortages and a poor economy.
Some analysts suspect that Prime Minister Sharif fell out of favor with the military in recent months, according to The Globe and Mail. In 1999, Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by a military coup after trying to replace more loyal generals. He was imprisoned, likely avoided execution and was rescued by his special relations with Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Sharif is a wealthy ruthless politician and businessman who will not give up his seat willingly and has been ousted from power before by the military, so he fears another coup. The fact that this is his third term as prime minister is demonstrative of ambition under the reworking of the constitution in 2010.
The famous sportsman, Imran Khan, is an ethno-national social populist who is taking advantage of the poor economic results, the corruption and status of the present regime. He is rallying the people not to pay taxes or utility bills.
The real problem is Pakistan as a whole, its nuclear weapons status, many schools of violent Islamic extremism and a very real possibility for socio-economic and political collapse. The trigger may not be this single event, but the fissures of Pakistan are beginning to surface in more sectors than one. An international fail safe regarding the nuclear weapons might be a pipe dream, but that will be the first thing needed to be safeguarded if Islamabad ever falls.
How long can the Pakistani military hold the line?