ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday sent troops to boost security in Islamabad’s government district after opposition politician Imran Khan pledged to lead protesters on parliament in a high-stakes bid to depose the prime minister.
Khan, the former cricket star who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, says last year’s general election was rigged and has demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign.
Thousands of Khan’s followers have rallied in Islamabad over the past five days to demand Sharif quit, piling pressure on the government little more than a year since its landslide victory.
Populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri — leading his own protest in the capital at the same time, also seeking to topple the government — on Tuesday said his rally would also move to parliament.
The government has used shipping containers to seal off Islamabad’s “red zone”, which houses key buildings including parliament, the prime minister’s house and numerous Western embassies.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said extra troops were being deployed to stop marchers entering the red zone.
“It has been decided to hand over the security of the red zone to military,” the minister told reporters.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Sharif and attended by army chief General Raheel Sharif, Khan said — suggesting the government has the support of the powerful military in the crisis.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan has experienced three military coups and the protests triggered speculation about possible intervention by the armed forces.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has accused Khan of trying to derail the nation’s perennially fragile democratic system as the government struggles with Taliban militancy and a flagging economy.