Backchannel efforts on to defuse political tension in Pakistan

Bracing for Thursday`s massive rallies by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and a Canada-based cleric, the Nawaz Sharif government has launched backchannel efforts to avoid a confrontation even as it warned that Pakistan will not be allowed to "become Somalia, Iraq or Libya".

PTI| Last Updated: Aug 13, 2014, 18:29 PM IST

Islamabad: Bracing for Thursday`s massive rallies by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and a Canada-based cleric, the Nawaz Sharif government has launched backchannel efforts to avoid a confrontation even as it warned that Pakistan will not be allowed to "become Somalia, Iraq or Libya".

Khan has given a call for a mammoth `Freedom March` on Pakistan`s Independence Day in Islamabad to protest against alleged rigging of last year elections which brought Sharif to power.

Canada-based Pakistani cleric Tahirul Qadri would also organise his `Revolution March` tomorrow demanding the ouster of the government for its anti-poor policies and corruption.

In a meeting yesterday to review the security situation ahead of the protests, the Ministry of Interior decided to deal protesters with an iron hand if they resort to any kind of violence.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said, "Those people who are breaking hands of the police, martyring their own people and beheading the people cannot be left free in Islamabad city."

"If any violent crowd was allowed to protest in the capital for one time then after every few months a more violent crowd of people will threaten to come to Islamabad and take over the government and that could not be allowed at all as we will not let Pakistan become Somalia, Iraq or Libya," he was quoted as saying by Nation newspaper.

Pakistan government has already handed over the security of capital Islamabad to the army for three months. According to reports, Army will guard key government installations and other sensitive spots.

The government has also ordered the suspension of mobile phone services and wireless Internet services in several parts of Islamabad for an indefinite period.
At the same time, the government has made overtures to Khan to pursue him to call off the rally tomorrow.

The efforts for reconciliation are being made by the rightwing Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) which is a coalition partner of Khan in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

"These efforts got a boost by the speech of the Prime Minister who accepted a major demand of Khan to probe the rigging," said a senior opposition politician.

Yesterday, Sharif extended an olive branch to his opponents by announcing to set up a commission of Supreme Court judges to probe the charges of rigging in the last year`s?elections.

Sharif also announced to reform the electoral laws through parliament.