Pakistani power struggle flares up
Protesters rallied in several cities after a court banned popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from running for office.
Lahore, Pakistan; and Delhi
A power struggle in Pakistan that was touched off Wednesday by the sidelining of the country's main opposition leadership shows no sign of ebbing, dealing a blow to US efforts to focus Islamabad on the Taliban threat.Skip to next paragraph
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Protests over a court decision that bars popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from standing in elections entered their second day in several major cities.
In Lahore, protesters chanted slogans Thursday against President Asif Ali Zardari, accused by the opposition of engineering the court ruling and inflaming the situation by trying to replace the opposition-led provincial government in Lahore. Thirty opposition lawmakers were detained briefly after police barred them from Punjab's provincial assembly building in Lahore – further enraging the nearly 2,000 activists gathered.
Until now, the opposition parties and Washington have given the ruling party led by Mr. Zardari some latitude as the country emerged from nearly a decade of dictatorship. But the latest turn of events threatens to embroil Pakistan in months of turmoil at a time when experts are calling for political engagement in the country's counterinsurgency efforts.
"This again puts the entire onus of responsibility [for counterinsurgency] back on the military, which cannot deliver in terms of a durable political solution," says Imtiaz Gul, head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
Experts in Pakistan concerned with the Taliban threat had hoped that the country's political leadership could join hands to "civilianize" the ongoing fight, as the military effort had only stoked local resentment, he says. "With the latest developments, all those hopes seem to have vanished for the time being."
Now the country looks ahead to nationwide protest marches set for the second week of March. Planned before the court decision, these marches by lawyers are expected to intensify with the addition of Mr. Sharif's supporters.
The government of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has grown increasingly unpopular since taking office a year ago. Lawyers and others are frustrated that the government has failed to overturn decisions made by former ruler Pervez Musharraf to stave off his challengers – including the replacement of judges. The judges who ruled Wednesday were Musharraf appointees, and many observers in Pakistan read their decision as entirely political.