Pakistan government plans decisive crackdown against protesters
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing to launch a selective
crackdown against anti-government protesters trying to bring down the
government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the defence minister said, warning
demonstrators against storming government buildings.
Dashing chances of a peace deal between the government
and protest leaders Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri, anti-government protesters
stormed the state television building in the heart of the heavily guarded
capital earlier on Monday.
Protesters have also tried to march on Sharif’s
residence. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters in an interview at his
house hours after the attack on the state television building that the
government would not hesitate to enforce its writ and was considering cracking
down against those attacking state institutions.
“If not mass arrests, selective use of force can be
used,” Asif said, describing one option the government may decide to exercise
following a meeting between the prime minister and his top aides.
“The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to
make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before
that,” he said. “I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the
course of coming events.
“Commentators have been divided over what Sharif could
do to defuse the crisis, and Asif’s remarks for the first time confirmed that a
crackdown on protesters was on the cards as the government debates its further
Asif, considered to be in favour of talks, is one of a
growing number of members of Sharif's cabinet who believe it is time for
tougher action against thousands of protesters massed in Islamabad to demand
the prime minister step down. Round after round of negotiations have failed to
end the crisis that has gripped Pakistan for more than two weeks, with Khan and
Qadri saying they will not back down unless Sharif resigns.
The army is bound to play a key role in how the
conflict unfolds but it has not directly intervened, apart from talking to the
protagonists and calling on them to show restraint. In a brief statement late
on Sunday, the army reaffirmed its commitment to democracy and said the crisis
had to be solved politically.
“Further use of force will only aggravate the problem.
It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically
without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means,” it said.