As part of their "plan B," anti-government demonstrators seeking the downfall of PM Imran Khan's government have blocked highways across the country. The government says it can weather the disruption.
Thousands of anti-government protesters blocked highways across Pakistan on Thursday in a bid to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, after their two-week sit-in on the capital's main highway failed to produce any results.
Protesters blocked the Grand Trunk Road between Islamabad and Afghanistan's capital Kabul, causing lengthy delays, reported Reuters. "Until our leaders announce otherwise we will remain here," said Mufti Owais Aziz, one of several hundred party activists blocking the highway.
Similar disruption was reported from other parts of the country. But authorities said they were able divert traffic in several affected areas.
The anti-government demonstrations began with the "Azadi" (freedom) March on October 27 from the southern city of Karachi.
The protests are led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a powerful religious figure and head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party, who claims that PM Khan came to power through rigged elections.
Speaking to DW earlier this week, Rehman said: "Our protest is against last year's rigged elections and the incumbent government."
The cleric also stressed that it was that high time Pakistan's military — the nation's most powerful institution — relinquish its "support" for PM Khan. The protester Rehman is backed by Pakistan's major opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People's Party headed by former President Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
The anti-government demonstrations began with the 'Azadi' (freedom) March on October 27 from Karachi
Khan came to power after winning a majority in the 2018 parliamentary polls on promises to improve the country's economy and provide jobs. But his critics say the election was rigged by the military to install a government of the generals' choice.
They also criticize Khan's administration, saying that the premier has so far not been able to honor his commitment to the masses.
With inflation climbing to 8%, the rupee losing a third of its value over the past year and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of imports, Khan's government was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May for a bailout package.
The IMF's tough bailout conditions have been unpopular, and analysts say the opposition is now ready to use the "public anger" to remove Khan from power.
But the government appears confident it can weather the protests.
Fawad Chaudhury, a minister in Khan's cabinet, told a press conference on Thursday the Islamabad sit-in had been "unsuccessful."
"The religious politics of the country have been damaged by this protest," he said.
sri/msh (Reuters, dpa)