ISLAMABAD – Pakistan plunged into a political crisis Tuesday after the country’s top court ordered the arrest of the prime minister just as a protest of unprecedented size hit Islamabad, demanding the dismissal of the government.
The two events were not obviously connected, but with the current government’s term in office ending in weeks and the country prone to military takeovers, many said the coincidence suggested some kind of coup was taking place. In Pakistan’s history, no democratically elected government has ever been succeeded by another democratically elected one.
“This is the establishment working,” said Fawad Chaudhry, a special adviser to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, whom the Supreme Court ordered arrested in a bribery case. “They want to dismiss the government and put in a long-term interim setup.”
Ashraf was not arrested, and Law Minister Farooq Naek told reporters that only one government agency, the National Accountability Bureau, an anti-corruption watchdog, had the power to make such arrests.
But even the threat of a move against the prime minister unnerved a city already on edge by the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters led by a charismatic religious cleric, Tahir ul-Qadri.
Qadri’s estimated 50,000 protesters, who arrived in the capital Monday night, occupied the wide road that runs the length of Islamabad. In a speech, Qadri called for the dissolution of the current Parliament and demanded that the army have a say in the selection of an interim government.