Protests in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, have turned violent over the past twenty four hours and events there have reached the lofty heights of the stuff world news section. In the last ten days Islamabad has gone from being somewhere we planned to visit to somewhere we will not be visiting under any circumstances.
The protestors are followers of two opposition leaders, Imran Khan (yes, the former cricketer) and religious leader Tahir-ul-Qadri. The protestors are demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quit and hold a new election.
We don’t really understand Sharif’s politics. We asked a hiking guide today whether he was left or right wing. He said Sharif was left wing because he sympathised with Islamic extremists and is sometimes called the clean shaven Taliban. This is not something we classically associate with being Left. In any case, the complaints of the protestors appear to be more about corruption than policy. Their (pretty well substantiated) claim is that the last election was rigged.
Sharif knows he is likely to lose an election if he calls one, so is likely to try to weather the protests to remain in power. The recent violence – one death and some hundreds of injuries – is at the hands of the local police who have moved from trying to contain the protestors to trying to disperse them.
We’ve seen impassioned speeches on TV most nights but otherwise the political turmoil hasn’t touched the sleepy world of the Hunza where we’ve spent the last week. We have no intention of getting close to the protests so our itinerary will give Islamabad a wide berth and deliver us on to a flight out of Lahore on 10 September.
If the protests spread or become more violent we might expedite our departure. But nothing we have read to date gives us cause for immediate concern and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advice that was helpfully automatically emailed to us because we’re registered in Pakistan effectively endorses our plan to avoid Islamabad and keep a watching brief.