ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday dismissed a political crisis triggered by protests aimed at unseating his government as ‘a tiny storm’ that would be ended soon.
Thousands of supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have been camped outside parliament since August 15 demanding Sharif quit, claiming the election which swept him to power last year was rigged.
“This is just a tiny storm, a tumult, which would be ended in a few days,” Sharif said in the eastern city of Lahore.
However, the “protest sit-in has caused massive loss to Pakistan’s economy,” he said, “we will retrieve that but they must realise that protests have affected the development projects.”
More than a week of government efforts to negotiate an end to the standoff made little headway, with cricketer-turned-politician Khan adamant that Sharif must resign. But Sharif said all the demands had already been accepted.
“We have already accepted all their demands, of electoral reforms and establishment of a commission,” Sharif said, referring to the judicial commission to investigate rigging claims.
Sharif added the findings of the judicial commission would be made public and would be acceptable to his government, but Khan again yesterday rejected this and reiterated his demand of Sharif’s resignation.
Sharif’s government is also under fire since Thursday for asking army to mediate to end the two-week political crisis but Interior Minister Chaudhry Ali Nisar Khan told parliament on Friday the protesters’ unwillingness to trust anyone had left no alternative but army mediation.
The country’s powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif on Thursday held talks with Qadri and Khan in the standoff between the government and protesters.
The move has raised fears of increased military dominance over the civilian government in a country ruled for more than half its life by the army.
Khan alleges the 2013 general election that swept Sharif to power in a landslide was rigged, though international observers said the vote was largely free and fair.
Qadri has demanded wholesale changes to Pakistan’s political system and called for an interim “unity government” while they are implemented.
The leaders have drawn thousands to the streets in Islamabad but their call has not mobilised mass support in a country of 180 million people.