ISLAMABAD: The leader of one of Pakistan’s largest religious parties, Fazlur Rehman, gave Prime Minister Imran Khan two days to resign in an address to supporters on Thursday, or face thousands of protesters gathered in Islamabad.
Rehman is leading tens of thousands of opposition supporters to demand the resignation of the government, warning of chaos if their demands are not met. “You have two days time. You should tender your resignation. Otherwise the next day, we have to decide our future course of action,” Rehman said.
Khan has dismissed the opposition’s calls to step down and warned he would not tolerate chaos on the streets.
“We are peaceful people, that’s why we want to stay peaceful,” Rehman told protesters, flanked by the leaders of major opposition parties. “Otherwise this sea of Pakistan’s public that has arrived in Islamabad has the power to go inside the prime minister’s house and arrest him.”
Rehman said protesters did not want a confrontation with “institutions.” “We want to see institutions powerful but we also want institutions to act with neutrality,” he said.
However, he warned: “If we feel that this illegitimate ruler (Khan) is being protected by our institutions, then there is a deadline of two days. After that we should not be stopped from having an opinion about these institutions.”
Speaking at the protest rally, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, president of the PMLN party of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said Khan’s government had failed to deliver since it had come to power, as was visible from protests by all segments of society.
“We have to move this movement forward ... and if given just six months, we will put this country back on track,” he said.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the opposition PPP party, said the government had burdened the poor through double-digit inflation, and that the country was plagued by increasing unemployment.
“I want to assure you on behalf of my party that we will stand by you in every democratic step you take,” he told the protesters. “Together we will send this puppet home.”
Security is tight in Islamabad with the government and diplomatic sector — just a few miles from the rally site — sealed off. Media outlets reported that schools were closed on Friday, public transport suspended and internet services interrupted in some areas.
Khan won the 2018 election on promises of pulling 100 million people out of poverty. But an economic crisis has since forced his government, like many of its predecessors, to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout.
The government is trying to correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut debt while trying to expand the tax base in the country of 208 million people, of whom few file returns.
Inflation is squeezing household budgets and traders this week protested against new tax measures.