Pakistan In Turmoil as Prime Minister Faces Arrest

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Things are growing tense in the Pakistani capital on Tuesday as the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the nation's prime minister, even as thousands of demonstrators descended on Parliament looking to bring down the government. The two incidents are technically unrelated—the court ruling comes from an ongoing corruption investigation—but the timing could not be worse (or more suspicious) for a government that, even on its best days, is usually on shaky ground. Al Jazeera reports that Islamabad is essentially shut down at the moment, with all schools closed and cell phone networks turned off to prevent them from being used to detonate bombs.

The call for revolution started over the weekend when a popular Muslim cleric called on supporters to rally in Islamabad and demand that the government be dissolved and new elections held. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri had been living in Canada until just two weeks ago, but returned to Pakistan and immediately began calling for democratic reforms and an end to government corruption. He had given the prime minister and the president an 11:00 a.m. deadline (local time) to resign, but that came and went with no response. Since then, thousands of demonstrators have marched on the Parliament building where they've clashed with riot police.

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Then later in the morning, the Pakistani Supreme Court issued arrest warrants for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and 16 others who are accused of rigging power plant contracts when he was the minister for water and power. Opponents say Ashraf is alleged to have embezzled millions of dollars during his time as minister. A spokesperson for the prime minister says the arrest order is unconstitutional, but the man he replaced was dismissed by a previous Supreme Court ruling last year.

For a country that has both nuclear weapons and previous governments that have been overthrown by their own military, today's events obviously have everyone worried, both in and out of Pakistan. An aide to the Prime Minister even accused the military of both backing Qadri and conspiring with the courts to oust the sitting government—even though elections are already scheduled for later this year. Oh, and Pakistan is already embroiled in yet another violent dispute with India over Kashmir and Taliban fighters in the north could take advantage of the chaos to strike at any moment. The situation is delicate, to say the least.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.