The Pakistani Supreme Court has called for the arrest of the Prime Minister over a corruption scandal. The news was met with elation by thousands of protesters in the capital, who called for the dissolution of parliament on the grounds of corruption.
Minister Raja Pervaiz allegedly received kickbacks and commissions in an ongoing case over a rental power plant project. He stands accused of accepting bribes in 2010 when he was minister for water and power.
The Supreme Court also called for the arrest of 15 other people in connection with the case.
The Minister’s advisor Fawad Chaudhry decried the Supreme Court’s order, calling it “unconstitutional” and said the ruling was without a doubt a product of the Supreme Court and the military working together to bring down the government.
In addition, leading human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir wrote the timing of the ruling was “dubious” on Newsweek Pakistan’s Twitter feed.
The announcement of the Prime Minister’s arrest was met with celebration by the tens of thousands of anti-government protesters led by cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri who had gathered in Islamabad, reported Newsweek Pakistan.
Followers of Canadian-Pakistani Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri marched through Islamabad as part of a two-day mass protest against government corruption. Qadri demanded that the Pakistani parliament dissolve itself by 11:00am local time (06:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
“Morally, your government and your assemblies have ended tonight,” he said in a public address on Monday. “I will give [the government] a deadline until tomorrow to dissolve the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. After that, the people’s assembly here will take their own decision.”
The situation spiraled out of control when the deadline passed, as scuffles broke out between protesters and the police. Officers fired tear gas shells at the ground and shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
Riot police officers gather outside parliament during the second day of a protest by supporters of Sufi cleric and leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran Muhammad Tahirul Qadri in Islamabad January 15, 2013.(Reuters / Zohra Bensemra)
Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran movement speaks before a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad January 13, 2013.(Reuters / Mohsin Raza)
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri rest during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri shout slogans during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Qadri’s supports pelted police with stones and beat them with sticks. Six activists were allegedly injured in the altercation. In an email to AP, Qadri blamed the security forces for the violence, claiming that they attempted to arrest him.
Thousands continued to rally in central Islamabad in support of the cleric after the spate of violence. A city official told Reuters that there were around 30,000 people remaining the streets.
Barricades were set up around government buildings in the center of Islamabad, and additional security personnel have been deployed. Mobile phone networks have also been shut down in the area, as authorities fear cellphones could be used to detonate bombs.
Qadri has demanded that the Pakistani governmental elections scheduled for this spring should be delayed until corruption is stamped out in the current regime.
The Pakistani government warned that they will not concede the cleric’s demands following the outbreak of violence. “We will not accept Qadri’s pressure because his demands are unconstitutional,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told local television channels
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri hold placards during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Although Qadri enjoys significant support among Pakistan’s lower- and middle-class, some suspect that he is being backed by the Pakistani military.
The cleric has denied any involvement with the military, although he said that the army could form a transitional government while new rulers are elected, giving rise to speculation over his connections to the military.
“I have no link with military institutions,” he told Reuters earlier. “I am one of the biggest staunch believers… of democracy in the whole world.”
Well-known as a founder of global Sufi organization Minhaj-ul-Quran and an outspoken anti-terrorism activist, it was not expected Qadri would emerge now as the leader of the protests, Farooq Yousaf, analyst and editor at the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad told RT.
“Mr. ul-Qadri enjoys the support of specific sectors of the Islamic religion, but as he was extremely vocal against the Taliban… he had to flee to Canada. But the timing of when he arrived is extremely surprising, because out of nowhere he came and announced a march against the government. It is extremely alarming for the country at a time when the government is about to complete its 5-year term,” Yousaf said.
Sultan M. Hali, a senior retired officer in the Pakistani Air Force and journalist told RT that there were theories Qadri is backed by the West given that he spent a number of years in Canada.
“Some say that because of his Canadian nationality and his longer stay in the West he may have been motivated as well as funded by the West,” said Hali.
Linking the uprising to the Arab Spring, Hali stated that Qadri was likely to be more successful given his reputation in the West as a moderate and not an extremist.
Qadri is “more enigmatic than charismatic,” but his movement has come at a time when there’s been “a very strange convergence of a lot of contradictory forces” in Pakistan, journalist and political analyst Shahab Jafry told RT.
Somebody must be pulling the strings and providing the funding, Jafry argued, saying that Qadri is clearly taking advantage of the situation in the country. But Qadri’s position in Pakistan will very much depend on the government’s reaction, he added.
“How much supports he [Qadri] gets from other political parties… in that the government will play a very central role. If it overreacts prematurely, if it exerts a force, then there are a number of parties that will jump in,” Jafry said.
If the Pakistani elections proceed as planned this year, it will be the first time a civilian government has conducted democratic elections in the country’s history.
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri chant slogans during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)